Saturday, October 27, 2012

Four pieces of music you might enjoy (and absolutey nothing about the bloody euro, the EU or anything of that ilk)

It’s odd when you hear a piece of music and, although you have never heard it before, you seem to know it, it seems to be far more familiar than is at all possible. To put it another way, if you were able to compose and perform music in the the same idiom, this would be it. If I can go out on a limb and risk some of the more cynical among you who might happen to be reading this thinking me as the pretentious pillock you always suspected I was, I would say that the music ‘speaks to me’. It’s uncannily as though it were my music.

I have had that sensation several times over the past years, and it happened again a while ago with a piano sonata by Scarlatti (Domenico - there seems to be a whole tribe of them, his dad, his granddad, his brother, two uncles, a chap down the road, old Guiseppe who used to run the bar and compose in his spare time, loads of them, but the one I am referring to his Domenico). The piece is K466 in F minor. I was idly listening to Radio 3 one Saturday morning (and having just written that, I’m beginning to wonder whether one really can ‘idly’ listen to the radio, but there you go) and it was played by some Japanese pianist or other. And it was as though I had known the piece all my life. I ‘understood’ it immediately. It was as though I had composed it. It seemed to describe me and what I felt.

Then there is the music of David Fuiczynski. Same story. I first heard his playing when I bought my first (or second, I can’t remember) MP3 player and with it came a voucher for 20 free downloads. I opted for some jazz guitar and Mr Fiuczynski was one of those playing. And it has to be said that the piece he played was utterly atypical of the the work I later came to know. But on the strength of that one track, I looked him up and, on spec, bought an album called Amandala and exactly the same thing happened: if I were a good guitarists that was exactly the kind of music I would like to create. (As far as I am concerned, Fiuczynski’s music is indefinable - not jazz, not rock, simply itself.)

Most recently it has happened with a composer called Kenneth Leighton. I really can’t remember where I was or how I came to hear it, but I heard a piece by him on Radio 3 and I was hooked. So far I have bought his second and third symphonies.

Similarly, but not quite, is a piece by jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans called Young And Foolish. There is something about it which goes right deep inside me and then towards the end seems to touch a part of me which I feel no one had ever seen for the simple reason that I have tried not to let anyone see it. Sounds like a load of wank, I know, but what the hell.

Here are four pieces, one by each of the above. First up is the piano sonata K466 in F minor by Scarlatti. If it doesn’t sound too daft, I should like this piece played at my funeral.

Then there is a piece by David Fiuczynski. Given his varied output, all I can do is simply choose one of the many pieces by him I have on iTunes, and one of the main reasons I choose this is rather banal: it’s not too long and a good-quality Quick Time movie of it would not be too big to upload.

Here is the fifth movement of the Symphony No 2 by Kenneth Leighton. There is just something about this music I - ahem - adore. Sorry, for that, but that’s how I feel. And it shouldn’t be Sarah Cox, but Sarah Fox. I didn’t realise until a few seconds ago while listening to the piece once it was here on the blog and it’s too bloody late to do anything about it. Well, actually, it’s not too late - I could go back to the original iMovie movie, correct it, re-save the Quick Time movie, upload it again and get it all square but, dear reader, I at this point I really can’t be fucking arsed (and if there are any virgins reading this, make that bloody arsed. Can’t upset people, can I?) So an apology to Sarah Fox will have to do, though I doubt she will ever find her way here. But if you do, Sarah, sorry.

Finally, here is the piece by jazz pianist Bill Evans called Young And Foolish. UPDATE - Feb17, 2013: No it’s not, it’s called Peace Piece. Sorry about that. My mistake. It is also posted on You Tube and some punter called Geoff Rowe put me right. Oh well, lose some, lose some. It is quite simply beautiful, though not exactly in the way you might originally think. I would also like this piece played at my funeral. When I hear it, I feel someone is looking into my soul, especially the discordant bits towards the end. Thing is, that’s me and everyone else who was once young and foolish. More wank, I’m afraid, but there you go.

I trust you like some, perhaps even all of them. If you are interested in other videos, you can find them here.Oh, and as I have gone out on a limb in this entry and laid myself wide open to ridicule in some of my descriptions, I might as well add that apart from the Scarlatti sonata and the Bill Evans track a third piece I should like played at my funeral is Mozart’s Symphony no 41, and if time is a little short and the undertakers are getting restless to get me down under sooner rather than later so they can bugger off and get home before dark, I should at least like that symphony’s last movement played.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In which, for no very good reason I can make out, I go to bed without supper...

Well, an interesting 24 hours which at the point of writing - 8.45pm - is soon to culminate with me going to bed with no supper. Not that I have done anything wrong, it’s just that I am married to a rather odd woman who insists on doing things her way however daft, not to say utterly and bafflingly incomprehensible, her way might be.

Finished my Wednesday shift at 6pm as usual last night, but instead of taking myself off down the M3, then the A303 as usual, with my usual stop-off in South Petherton in Somerset or Sticklepath on the edge of Darmoor for a pint or two of cider and a cigar, I headed out to a little village a few miles north of High Wycombe to visit the widow of an old friend of my father’s.

When my stepmother had her stroke five-and-a-half years ago, Susan, by then already widowed for a few years, took on my stepmther’s two dogs, two springer spaniels called Daisy and Puffin. Daisy was already a grande dame and died not long afterwards, but Puffin was in her prime and proved to be excellent company for Susan. Sadly, Puffin had to be put down a month or two ago because of bad health (I think it was cancer) and when I heard, I rang Susan and gathered (although she never said a word) that she was feeling very bereft and lonely.

So I decided to visit her and take her out for a meal, a deed made far, far easier and extremely pleasant to boot in that Susan is very good company and, although by now over 80, still very girlish and young in the way that some folk miraculously remain young in spirit and thus give the impression of being far younger than they really are. Susan lives in a cottage which was once two semi-detached cottages, and walking into the house is like stepping back into the Fifties, with books and papers and a variety of pictures and paintings everywhere. Before she retired she taught art and is still active.

Rather than drive home after supper, I slept at Susan’s and took off down here to Cornwall in the morning, dropping in on my mother’s grave at the cemetery at Lower Assendon near where we once lived on the way home. At the end of last week, I took a picture of my two children, then printed it out at work and got Ron (at work about whom I could write several thousand words) to laminate it. I left this with a pot plant at my mother’s grave. I have not been there for several years, but I think I am the only one of my family to visit it. Perhaps my sister does when she is here in Britain, but I know neither of my two brothers do. In fact, I would be surprised if they knew where it is. I left the picture of my two children because between us all, my mother, were she still alive would have six grandchildren but died before any of them was born. And she was the kind of woman who would just loved to have been a grandmother and spoilt her grandchildren rotten (as is, of course, exactly as it should be).

After that I headed off west through Reading, but taking the A34 south to Newbury to join the A303 (such details making essential reading for all the nerds who do me the honour of reading the crap I write), took a wrong turning and found myself heading south for Southampton, although far. This is where I made a mistake: rather than retrace my tracks and rejoin the A303 I ‘got clever’ (a perpetual flaw of mine, and despite long ago realising the certain dangers of ‘getting clever’, I still fall for it.)

In this case I decided that, courtesy of my satnav, I would just keep ‘heading west’ and ignore its instructions. The upshot was that I criss-crossed most of west Hampshire and east wiltshire, getting nowhere closer to Cornwall than had I been exploring the Gobi desert. That
meant that a journey which should have taken me just over four hours took seven, although one of those hours was taken up with stopping off at the Taw River Inn in Sticklepath for a pint of cider (at just £1.90 - fuckwits in London and especially the Scarsdale Tavern take note) and a couple of bags of cheese and onion crisps. Oh, and to oogle Shona, who is not in the slightest bit pretty and a tad dumpy to boot, but who I could give one just like that. Furthermore, I get a slight impression she wouldn’t mind being given one). Then it was on homewards.

Here my daughter has buggered off to some school function, my son went off to football and my wife announced she ‘wasn’t hungry’. And nothing had been prepared. But I am hungry. I drove off up to The Old Inn, but that has been taken over from the two woofters who used to run it (and used to have a reasonably decent pub food restaurant) by someone who likes to attract the punter with ‘all you can eat and then some’ offers, which is not really my kind of thing (although he gains a brownie point or two for having reinstated the pool table which the woofters had got rid of to make way for more restaurant tables). I came back home and toyed with the idea of an Indian in Wadebridge, then a visit to the Blisland Inn (in Blisland - now there’s a surprise), but finally can’t get enthused about much. I finally decided to settle in, finish off the bag of Kettles salt ’n cracked pepper crisps (how is ‘cracked pepper’ different to ‘pepper’ I wonder?) feel sorry for myself that I shall be going to bed hungry. But don’t worry, we Scorpios have long memories and my wife really hasn’t heard the last of this.

Enjoy your supper.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A great day for fascists: the golden dawn has arrived. It’s not such a great day for the rest of us. Nobel Peace Prize anyone?

Most of my knowledge is of the scavenged variety. It consists of tidbits and scraps gathered here and there which can then be stitched together into an apparently coherent whole. Carefully trotted out and dipped into conversation as almost an aside, this knowledge can then give the impression of being but the tip of an iceberg, that had I but world enough and time others might well be treated to a marvellous exposition of some more arcane aspect of what is being discussed, but that I am far too well-mannered to ‘show off’ and quite possibly risk showing up some in the company who might not be as well-read, well-informed and as wise as I apparently seem to be. It takes a little, though not a great deal of, skill to achieve the effect and, as always, the admirable principle is ‘less is more’.

In the 140-odd words I have written so far, I have already attempted (and, I bloody well hope, achieved) persuading some of you - though most certainly not all - that I am rather well-read and you might well have marvelled at my skill in weaving into the fabric of this piece, a paraphrase of a well-known poem. It is, of course, all complete bullshit. Despite having taken an English literature course at Dundee University, I was comprehensively failed by the English department for hardly turning in any work and what I did turn in being immature cack. Oh, and I read very, very few of the set texts.

Incidentally, you might be familiar with another ploy used by some to intimidate others. It consists of some twat or other declaring something along the lines of: ‘As Mallarmé put it so well ...’ followed by a minute or two of something in French, delivered in the sure knowledge that you don’t ‘have’ any French of any kind and that even if you did, you would not be familiar with the piece quoted. The intention is the not-so-subtle ‘you’re an ill-educated oik, whereas I’m not, and I think it is best to make sure we both know it sooner rather than later in a relationship which, believe me, will be as brief as it is unimportant’. A related ploy is to
announce something like ‘you’ll be familiar, of course, with Weaver’s delightful demolition of the Nicene creed as being complete epistemological nonsense’, knowing full well that you are not familiar with anything of the kind and that the only ‘Weaver’ you have heard of was the sidekick in Gunsmoke and the main man in McCloud. Or how about ‘don’t you think when it comes to Japanese hikrati tokumoru, Bullock gets it just right?’ Bollocks gets it just right would be more to the point.

The above should set the scene nicely for what comes next: I came across it a few days ago, and it seems rather apt for our times. I shall now look it up on the net to make sure that my belief that it is indeed by Mark Twain (that’s what the chap said who used it in the piece I read). A minute later: Yes it was. He is said to have remarked: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

I have recently done many things, but two of them are to watch every episode so far of Boardwalk Empire, and to dig out reports of the rise of (Χρυσή Αυγή or, for those who don’t ‘have’ Greek, Chrysi Avgi). (‘Mum, he’s doing it again!’ ‘Just ignore him, dear, he only wants attention, and if you ignore him he’ll go away. Just ignore him.’)

Boardwalk Empire is relevant because it portrays the lives of a list of Prohibition Era gangsters in Atlantic City, New York, Chicago and Philidelphia and the speakeasy culture which evolved because of prohibition. The Twenties were also known as the Jazz Age and were a time of expansion, growing credit and exuberant business of all kinds and which ended rather suddenly with the Wall St. crash in October 1929. The Depression followed the crash and the misery it caused help the fascists in Germany and Spain (and far earlier in Italy) gain popular support.

I am not, of course - I’m not daft - declaring that the Noughties (as the first decade of the 21st century is known to some) is a repeat of the Twenties, but they do seem to rhyme and I would be on firmer ground to claim that there are a great deal of similarities: the wilful business exuberance, the delusion that the stock bull market was here to stay (one of the bigger idiots produced by ‘New’ Labour promised there would be ‘no return to boom and bust’. Yeah, right), everyone living the life of Riley (mainly because the Chinese were selling the goods they produced at or even below cost in order to ‘grow’ their economy) and generally the conviction that the good times were here to stay. They weren’t, of course, as many said and we all - in our heart of hearts - knew. We are now paying the price.

I have been banging on about what a dog’s dinner the whole euro project is and always has been and, to be honest, it would bore me too much yet again to bang on some more. Like many others I follow the news and the ‘latest developments’, and in if one takes those developments individually, they can seem to make sense. But if, metaphorically, you go up the hill and survey the European economic landscape from a better perspective, it would be hard to argue that it is all complete madness. In both Greece and Spain, one in four people of working age is out of a job. In Spain the Spanish Red Cross has appealed to ‘the better off’ to donate food to ‘those who aren’t so well off’. In Greece, hospitals are opening only two or three days a week and many pharmacies have run out of drugs. There are daily demonstrations outside the Spanish parliament. In several weeks, Catalonia will hold a referendum on whether to declare independence. And in Greece, Golden Dawn, a gang - it would simply be dishonest to describe them as a ‘political party’ - is gaining ever more support. Several years ago, they were regarded by the Greeks as the nutters they are and
could only manage to win 0.4pc of the vote. At the most recent general election they gained 12pc. And estimated 60pc of the police in Greece are members of Golden Dawn. They have started a public campaign of ridding Greece of immigrants - they declare they want to ‘get the stench out of Greece’. By ‘stench’ they mean the immigrants. They are well organised. They have a network of ‘help bureaux’ where people can get food and other assistance. They are getting their support where all fascists parties get their support: among the dispossessed and those who have lost hope among the poor and lower middle classes.

The point must be made again that none of this would be possible without the misery the euro crisis has created in Greece. Certainly, what Angela Merkel insists upon as part of her  plans to ‘save the euro’ makes a certain sense in context: why should a country like Greece which lived beyond its means for so many years be bailed out without itself helping to sort out the problem by cutting back on public spending? But that misses the point entirely: and
the point is that we should be here in the first place. And worst of all is that there is no longer an equitable solution. None whatsoever. We are too far down the road for that. Golden Dawn is up and running, and the fascist genie is out of the lamp.

We all - all of us ‘baby boomers’ who have lived through the 67 years of peace which - oh, the irony! - have earned the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize - imagine that it will all ‘come right in the end’, that now is not the time to become a Cassandra, ‘they’ will sort it out. Oh really? Yes, it will ‘all come right in the end’ rather as the fuckup that was Nazi Germany ‘all came right in the end’ 23 years later by the mid-1950s. Me, I’m 63 next birthday and won’t see the worst of it. It is my 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son whose lives and well-being I fear for.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Worst news of the week: the Stones aren’t just not yet dead, they are going to play some more gigs. Can it get worse? No, not really – I’m not a fan of twats like Jagger

Quite possibly the worst news of the day is that The Rolling Stones are due to play a series of gigs in London and the U.S. The usual crap PR spiel tactics were used to make the news ‘exciting’: I was in the gym which was tuned to London’s XFM station when the presenter told us that he had some news to tell us about the Stones, but couldn’t do so yet – just stay tuned and he would reveal all by noon. The purpose of his schtick is, of course, to keep the listener tuned into XFM rather than any of the other London stations, but this ‘we’ve got some fabulous news to tell you about the Stones’ is so old hat, you can even get arrested for using it in some of the trendier parts of London.

The only fabulous news I want to hear is that Jagger – especially bloody Jagger, that multi-millionaire man-of-the-people pseudo Cockney art collecting twat whose one ambition for these past 20 years was to ‘get a knighthood’ - Richard and Wood have were all burnt alive in a car crash. Not Charlie Watts though, because he is rather more down-to-earth. Actually, Richards isn’t too bad, either, except that I have yet to see him interviewed where he makes even a modicum of sense. The guy seems so drug-addled that that when he is asked a question, he goes off-topic within about five seconds, starts some telling some incoherent, rambling anecdote but never finishes it because he ends up cackling like some village idiot when he recalls what made him laugh in the first place. And keep Ronnie Wood out of the car crash, too. He was in a band called Truth with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart which produced a cracking album. So, let’s recap: the only one of the Stones I should like burnt to cinders in the most brutal way is that arch-twat ‘Sir’ Mick Jagger.

When I was a kid, about 134 years ago, the usual pop marketing was to set up bands against each other: you liked one and not the other. Then it was The Beatles v The Stones. More recently is was Oasis v Blur. It’s all horribly phoney, I know, but kids always fall for it, and I fell for it. I was in The Beatles camp, although I also liked the Stones music. The Stones were also marketed as ‘bad boys’, another schtick which also goes down well. The equivalent for females is marketing someone as a ‘slut’, someone some girls can identify themselves with. The ‘bad boys’ image was, we now know, wholly bogus, but that wasn’t the point. The tabloids played along, of course, because that’s the name of the game. As for the music, The Stones weren’t half bad in the early days, but as far as I am concerned their last decent record was several centuries ago – Exile On Main Street. After that there were a couple of singles but like all bands – or rather like almost all bands – they went off the ball in a big, big way.

While writing the above, I have been asking myself why I am so obviously so, so pissed off with them and the ‘exciting’ news of new gigs. I think I know: they are a tragic embarrassment. The truth is that whitey rock and pop stars age very badly – bloody ‘Sir’ Paul McCartney dyes his sodding hair, for God’s sake – but they still soldier on in the delusion that they can still cut it with the young ones. The point is they can’t. Rock, pop, call it what you will was dealt a death blow when it began to be regarded as ‘art’. But it’s not fucking ‘art’: it’s fucking rock, funk, soul, R&B, pop, lover’s rock, grunge. What it isn’t is ‘art’.

The other night I was listening to Radio 4’s poncey 7.15pm arts show Front Row and they had bloody Muse on, waffling on about themselves and their new album and their ‘inspiration’ and the relevance of lyrics. Muse: three delightfully nice middle-class chaps from Teignmouth in Devon you wouldn’t at all be upset to see your daughter marrying. Along those lines one of the
guys in Blur is developed into a cheesemaker. For fuck’s sake, a bloody cheesemaker. I have also been a slow developer and didn’t mature properly until I was well into my 80s, and I do remember being horribly disappointed to hear that one Vince Furnier - the really, really evil one in Alice Cooper - was a highly regarded golfer. Oh, Lord, I cried for days and I hadn’t even heard their music, just one or two singles.

Don’t get me wrong: rock stars, pop stars, call them what you will, can do what they bloody hell they like – but don’t tell us about it. Collect Meissen porcelain, set up a string of garden centres (Jethro Tull’s mainman Ian Anderson has a string of fish farms), join the bloody Women’s Institute, do what the fuck you like – but DON’T let us know. We DON’T want to know. Even at 86 I don’t want to know.

As for the Stones, every pic of the band taken I the past 30 years embarrasses me; these guys are pushing 70 for God’s sake and look it. With the possible exception of Charlie Watts I can honestly say I’ve seen healthier corpses. (For the record I’ve only seen on corpse, but let’s not allow a detail like that to spoil a tirade.) Look at the pic I’ve dug out: can you really take that gang of pensioners seriously as ‘the best rock n’ roll band in the world’. If the answer’s yes, you are officially banned from reading this blog.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In which I introduce a grateful world to my two new enthusiasms: Pink and Boardwalk Empire

Well, it’s all happening: Syria is shooting at Turkey, Turkey is shooting back at Syria, Angela Merkel is in Athens, apparently expressing her solidarity with all those she is reducing to pauperism but actually merely showing that when it comes to tact, the Germans aren’t always on the button, one in four Spaniards who want to work can’t, just months after being elected King of France (although the French don’t actually call it King), Francois Hollande is now less popular than a turd on a living room carpet, and surveys in America report that the voters don’t like Obama or Romney. Yes, it’s all happening, but I have something far more important to report: I have two new enthusiasms.

. . .

The first is the music and songs of a lady called Pink, who might be known to some of you, but perhaps not to all of you. When I mentioned it the other day, I colleague said he was astounded, quite possibly because I am 63 next birthday, or quite possibly there is some other reason. I don’t know. What I do know is that among her peers (although I should add the I haven’t actually heard very much by her peers) I think she stands out rather well.

Discovering her and her music was purely by chance and if it hadn’t been that I heard a particular song, liked it and then heard it was by some singer called Pink, I doubt very much I would have followed it up. But the song, Family Portrait, rather touched me. These days, the only time I hear new music, rather new pop music, is when I am in the gym at work. I

was familiar with her hit Get This Party Started which, although a great pop song, is not, at the end of the day anything more than just a great pop song. And Family Portrait, too, could be seen as just another pop song. But what struck me when I heard it for the first time and what strikes me every time I hear it again, is that Pink sings it from the heart. In it’s way it is as far removed from all the crappy Britney Spears pop mush as a Bach cantata (although superficially it has more in common the Britney Spears than a Bach cantata. That much I’ll admit).

It is a sad song in which Pink simply pleads with her parents not to split up and can’t the family try to get back to what they once were. And that is it. But not much upsets me more than unhappy children, and even though Pink was an adult by the time she recorded that song, part of her still hurts and it comes across in the song. After that I bought one album, then another, then another, and I like her music. For one thing she has a great pop sensibility, but more than that she has a strong voice and can sing. Finally, she has a sense of humour. All in all, 63 next birthday or not, Pink’s my gal.

I might add here that I have also recently bought Dylan’s latest album Tempest. That is great, too. I don’t know how he does it - and the chances are that he doesn’t either - but Dylan does it more or less every time. To this day that opening chord of Like A Rolling Stone sends a shiver down my spine. (And if, by the way, you like it as much as I do, check out Johnny Winter’s version. He makes it a different song, but in its way it is just as good.)

 . . .

 My second enthusiasm is Boardwalk Empire, the story of Nucky Thompson who I read somewhere is described as a gangster and a politician who can’t decide whether he is more the gangster or the politician. The series is made by HBO and many, many, many of the great

talents who produced The Sopranos are involved in making it. Quite a few film makers have said that the bless the day when television started to allow them to make such series and allowed them to take their time telling a story, letting characters develop. They say that isn’t really possible in the conventional film of between 90 and 120 minutes. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. Some people say it is ‘boring’ because it is ‘too slow’ and that ‘nothing happens’. Well, if that’s the case they should stick to their Britney Spears collection of albums and leave more room for the rest of us to enjoy it.

. . .

I am always take a look at the stats for this blog every day. It’s a form of vanity, I know, but it is also an interesting insight into what people like to read and what they are interested in. And bugger me if this particular entry doesn’t regularly beat all other entries into a cocked hat. The odd thing is I really don’t know why. Someone care to tell me?