Sunday, May 25, 2014

As the EU votes in its latest gang of expense fiddlers, matters in Ukraine – not ‘the Ukraine’, please! - and Egypt carry on as planned. And just how far will the Far Right carry on rising? Is it curtains for social democracy?

While we here in Britain, and, of course, the rest of Europe, await the results of the European Union parliamentary elections and some get themselves into a lather over not just how many seats UKIP might grab, but how many euro seats rather less savoury right-wing parties might snaffle, two other elections were taking place to day which should – but, of course, won’t – put our belly-aching into perspective. One is in the Ukraine, which I now understand I must simply call ‘Ukraine’, because in the original Russo-Silesian-Polish-Crimean dialect once spoken in those parts, ‘the Ukraine’ simply meant ‘the borderlands’ and is, apparently, offensive and upsets a great many living there, especially when they are tanked up on vodka. The other election – and I gather inverted commas are in order as it is something of a stitch-up, so make that ‘election’ is taking place in Egypt. But to Ukraine first.

This is an interesting ‘election’: those inverted commas again must be utilised again because

1) only voters in the west of the country are voting, as ‘pro-Russia elements’ in the East, especially in Donetsk, are making sure that no election takes place, simply by destroying polling stations and intimidating any voter foolhardy enough to brave their wrath and attempt to cast his or her vote;

2) Petro Poroshenko, the main candidate, or rather the only real candidate as far as I can tell, is a billionaire chocolate magnate, and, bugger me, for all I try, I simply can’t see a chap with billions of roubles to protect and possibly several more billions to acquire, going out on a limb to protect and promote the interests of the country as a whole. What is likely, though, is that he’s the chap the EU and the US would like to see in power. (NB He has now claimed the presidency, apparently garnering 55pc of the votes of those who were able to vote. Oh, and here’s the surprise: he has promised to forge tighter links with the EU. Well!) The EU has extended its sanctions by the way and is clamping down on imports of Russian caviar, champagne and furs (More here.) Damn, and just as I was considering stocking up on just those items. It says this is in retaliation to Russia meddling in the Ukraine election though pertinently – and not unexpectedly – it has nothing to say about its own meddling.

However sniffy we democrats might get about Petro’s democratic credentials, and no one can get into quite such a hugh dudgeon as Western democrats when they put their mind to it, we are decidedly unsniffy about the power grab (why not call a spade a spade?) of Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi who seems likely to be the next president of Egypt and whose rise and rise is proof – though no proof was ever needed – of the observation that ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’ or as that chap said in The Leopard ‘everything must change for everything to stay the same’.

Yes, there has been violence and several deaths in Ukraine (see, I’m learning fast), but it is as nothing to the widespread rape, murder and wholesale imprisonment which has taken place since the legitimate president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in 2013. What makes it all the murkier, of course, is that half the country – the nicely spoken half who know which fish knife to use and undoubtedly

Egyptian police democratically articulate the government's views on Morsi and his supporters

use an Amex card – are rather glad that ‘a strong man’ is back in charge who promised to ‘sort out the economy’ and get the country back on its feet. Whether or not that will be as easy as he would like depends on whether the reputed 40pc of Egyptian industrial and business interests controlled by the Egyptian army will play ball. I rather think they will now their man is calling the shots.

The other half, the far poorer half, the rural-dwelling half, the half which put Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in charge in 2011, are assumed not to be in favour. And why should they? They will undoubtedly once more be reminded that it will be business as usual, ‘same shit, new broom.’ I can’t and won’t compare Sisi or his predecessor but one, Hosni Mubarak, to Adolf Hitler, but we should never forget that although Hitler gained power be semi-legal, dubious means, for quite a few years he had the support of a large number of the population. But that doesn’t mean he was one of the ‘good guys’.

These my bletherings on the two elections are, of course, no better informed than the bletherings of any other local neighbourhood pub bore. All I can do is read pieces in the serious end of journalism as well as the links given in those pieces to acquire as many ‘facts’ as I can about the personalties involved and add my own thoughts. But on one thing I am very clear: the attitude of the West – the US, the EU, Britain, France and others in that sorry ‘democratic’ bunch who voiced not a peep in protest when Morsi was toppled in an coup and now when Sisi, Mubarak’s heir, comes to power - is worse than despicable. Their stance, is mainly, of course, governed by the fact that Sisi is a man they can do business with – sell him weaponry and act in concert in the ‘war on terror’, and Morsi wasn’t. But all in all, the West can stick its promotion of democracy, the rule of law and all the rest up its arse.

A good rule of thumb is ‘Don’t judge people by what they say, judge them by how they behave’.

Sisi (here’s a useful profile of Egypt’s new ‘strong man’. Apparently he’s rather dull) has said he wants to get Egypt back on its feet by establishing stability and rebuilding the counry’s tourist industry. Well, one way of establishing stability is to silence any opposition, by locking it up and, if necessary killing its leading figures. As for getting the tourist industry back on its feet, I understand Germany was a very pleasant tourist destination between 1933 and 1939, though Jews were advised to choose some other country in which to see the sights.

. . .

Meanwhile, back in Europe and our own EU elections – but I really can’t be bothered. Banal and trivial might be the best two words with which to describe our political pre-occupations.

But say what you like about Ukip, the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and, as far as I know, the various right and far right groups whose candidates are vying with each other to get on the EU Parliament’s expenses list: rape, violence and murder are not yet an intricate part of their electoral strategies. A little more reading down the line – about the EU elections – and the following thought occurred to me: arguably Western Europe has politically been in thrall to a general liberal democratic/social democratic enlightened mentality since World War II.

All the major political parties seem to share a set of common principles and although they might disagree on ways and means, there are often complaints that the established right-of-centre and left-of-centre parties can all too often hardly be differentiated. For example, one of the gripes of the new Alternative Für Deutschland party is that there is a consensus among all the parties in the Bundestag that the EU generally and, more specifically being part of the eurozone, are Good Things, that to disagree that they might not be is somehow irrational, and so any German voter who does disagree simply doesn’t have a voice in the Bundestag which articulates his views. But whatever your views on the euro and ‘austerity’, they are small beer compared to a growing resentment throughout Europe against ‘immigrants’ and immigration (oddly enough in the wealthier member states).

You’ll certainly hear just as many arguments that ‘immigration is economically good for the country’ as arguments along the lines of ‘enough is enough, no more immigration’. But the sad fact is that most folk aren’t persuaded by argument: they have their view (‘I know what I think’), aren’t in the mood to be dissuaded and cast about for the relevant argument to justify them in and reinforce their particular prejudices. ‘Facts’ can be debated until you are blue in the face and then very easily, if necessary, be ignored. And a growing number of folk in France, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, The Netherlands, Belgium and Britain are becoming increasingly vociferous in their opposition to immigration because of the ‘fact’ that it is harming their country.

Please, for the moment, put aside your own views on that matter, and for the record I am not against immigration,a growing number are vociferously against immigrants and immigration. And a great many of them are not at all nice folk, not the kind you might like to have round one evening for several rounds of cribbage. I was rather surprised, for example, to read on the Economist website about a Czech called Adam Bartos, leader of the “No to Brussels—National Democracy” party in the European elections this weekend. The piece carries on: ‘A former journalist, he is fighting against what he says is a malign superstate in Brussels by appealing to nationalism and anti-Semitism. He keeps a list of 220 prominent Jews whom he accuses of dominating Czech public life’. Altogether now: what? Thinking that various countries are allowing in too many immigrants is one thing. Using the sentiment to take a nasty potshot at Jews is quite another. The Economist writes that Baros is unlikely to have any electoral success, but many parties which hold similar views are.

Next door in Hungary is the deeply unpleasant Jobbik party which also holds anti-semitic views. Oh well, you might say, some folk do. Well, at the most recent Hungarian general election Jobbik gained 21pc of the vote – so almost one in five (of those who turned out – a useful caveat) think Jobbik might have a point about

A Jobbik fan demonstrates the latest anti-semitic fashion accessories

Jews. In The Netherlands, Geert Wilders and his far-right Party For Freedom has made hay ove these past few years by attacking Islam. There are admittedly as many Islamic nutters as there are Catholic, Protestant and, I shouldn’t wonder, Jewish nutters, but let’s be vere clear: they make up a minute percentage of Muslims worldwide. But that doesn’t seem to bother Wilders and his supporters. Not, ‘let’s attack Islam’ goes down a treat.

Denmark, for the past 60 years or more seen as a bastion of liberal thinking, also has its far-right Danish People’s Party led by Pia Kjaerksgaard, Portugal his its Popular party lecd by Paulo Portas, in Greece the very nasty Golden Dawn has taken to beating up African immigrants in the street.

There have always been folk on the extreme wings of politics, you might say, and, of course, you are right. My point is that support for them, for whatever reason, is growing, and I do wonder whether the socially enlightened liberal consensus in Europe these past 60 years might slowly be coming to an end. The real problem is that under ‘the democratic rules’, your voice and your vote have as much right to be heard as my voice and my vote, and we were all able to accept that when our individual voices more or less congregated at the centre and the biggest disagreements we had were whether the new bus station should be painted red or blue. But the game might well be changing.

I don’t know what the EU election results are and so far can only go on reports of exit polls. But if, as some predict, one-third of all EU parliamentary seats are held be folk who think ‘hanging’s too good for the bastards’, we are in real trouble. Not that Brussels shouldn’t have seen it coming. But, of course, it didn’t and now we have this mess. European political union anyone? I don’t actually think so.

PS The claim has often been made – far too often in my view and a phoney claim it is at that – that the EU ‘has kept peace in Europe for the past 50 years. To which I say: Are you sure? Are you sure it wasn’t Eurovision which has kept us from attacking each other and slaughtering our womenfolk and children as in the bad old days?

. . . 

By the way: I’m always rather puzzled by demands that governments should deliver ever higher living standards. Just how many bloody plasma TV screens and laptops does the average household need? I would have thought it would be better to raise the living standards of those at the bottom of the pile to those enjoyed by the majority rather than to ensure that a household which now runs two cars can soon run three. But that’s enough pinko nonsense for one night.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What is it with the ‘distinction’ between ‘modern classical music’, ‘modern contemporary music’ and ‘jazz’? And I give a well-deserved mention to guitarist Justin Morell (who might not yet have been made a peer of the realm, but, well, you know . . . plus ça change and other utterly irrelevant cliches). Check him out

The soundfiles don’t work in the Opera browser. Don’t blame me, blame Opera.

UPDATE: Jun 14, 2014. Actually, they do seem to work in Opera on Windows. This post was created on my Macbook, but I am reading it - and listening to the soundfiles - in my Lenovo laptop, so . . .

A few years ago I was chastised, gently it has to be said, but nonetheless chastised, for being rather too discursive in these blog entries, of being too oblique in the opening paragraphs. My response was simply that it’s my bloody blog and I’ll bloody well do in my bloody blog what I bloody well want to do; and if I want to be discursive, I’ll be just as bloody discursive as I bloody well please. If someone happening across these scribblings takes exception to my oblique, discursive approach, they can find themselves some other less oblique and less discursive blog. Except that I was rather more forthright in my reply.

If you, dear reader - my dear, dear, dear reader without whom this blog wouldn’t stack up to a row of beans - want something less oblique and less discursive, the choice, courtesy of Google Blogger and Wordpress, is impressively vast. Try the thoughts of ‘One girl's feeble attempt to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with her God. And there is never a dull moment...’ here. Then there are the views as ‘A Baby Boomer looks at health, finance, retirement, grown-up children and ... how time flies’. If that sounds like your bag, this must be your next port of call. If, however, you are prepared to settle for my dyspeptic views on the irritating snobbery of those who feel ‘classical music’ is where it’s at and who look down on ‘jazz’ as the vague tootlings of often very talented but sadly delusional folk who simply don’t get it, read on.

Although I still work in London (for four days a week and, if nothing else, the money’s better and the work is more interesting), I have lived down here in North Cornwall since Christmas 1995 and have attended the St Endellion Easter and Summer Music Festivals for quite a few years. I have to say the occasion, rather like the Hay Festival and Latitude, is something of a middle-class wet dream, but the music is always good and always varied, and attending give me the chance possibly to hear a piece I’d not heard before or discover a composer. The audience is almost always grey-haired and nicely spoken, and the chaps are obliged to turn up in green cords and a navy blue sweater (and a Barbour if it’s rainy).

It’s all very, very, very informal and ad hoc in the way the British like their arts (the might privately envy any kind of artistic expertise, but publicly always regard it as ‘showing off’. The attitude is generally ‘I might be passionate about the arts and music, but it doesn’t pay to be too serious, does it, which is all far too American’). Our current Prime Minister David Cameron, whose most recent child was born while he and his family were on holiday here in North Cornwall - Rock is known hereabouts as ‘Kensington-on-Sea’ - had her baptised Florence Claudia Camilla Euphrates Emma Rose Kylie St Endellion Miranda Cameron in honour of the festival. And if you are British and don’t regard that as a seal of approval, it’s off to another blog with you, smartish kiddo.)

The performers at the two festivals, one held at Easter, the second at the end of July, beginning of August, are all professional musicians who, I gather, perform for the love of it and are not paid a fee, although they get free board and lodging (and, perhaps, for the lucky ones, a shag or two). It did occur to me a month or two ago when I was last there that being able to write on your CV when applying for a newer, more prestigious gig ‘I’ve spent a week playing in the St Endellion Festival every year for these past few years and even knew Richard Hickox before he popped his clogs’ must be worth several Brownie points.

About two years ago, I was at a concert when I noticed that a certain Michael Berkeley was part of the gang organising that year’s bunfight. Now, I was at school with Michael Berkeley, who as Berkeley I, was in the year above me. His brother Julian was in my year (and is now, for those who like detail, a gay landscape gardener somewhere in Surrey, Sussex, Kent or Hampshire, and, as the smarter ones among you have undoubtedly already worked out, was known as Berkeley II. I was, incidentally, Powell II, aka Kraut II and/or Jackboots II, and formerly in my early years, because of the rather distended stomach I had when I first joined as I weighed about 10st but then only reached around 5ft 4in, known as Preggers Powell. Oh, and to demonstrate just how useful that system of nomenclature was, we had at the Oratory School while I was there a Stillwell I, Stillwell II, Stillwell III, Stillwell IV and Stillwell V. Neat, eh? Who says the Brits can’t be just quite as efficient as the Germans when they put their mind to it?)

Berkeley (we never, if ever, used Christian names) was an affable enough chap who always played the organ at servicesd, as we were all shuffling out of the barn which was then the school chapel after once Sunday Mass had ended used to play - I don’t know the technical term - organ ‘continuo’ into which he would incorporate whatever occurred to him. (If was rather like the kind of taped organ muzak played at cremations as the coffin disappears for ever). I remember noticing how he cunningly concealed well-known toons in his performance for the first time when The House Of The Rising Sun was part of the mix. His father was the, now rather obscure, composer, Sir Lennox Berkeley, and his godfather was Mr Twink himself, Benjamin Britten. I next came across Berkeley when I heard his name mentioned as an announcer, and then as a presenter, on the BBC’s Radio 3. I also saw him once or twice on TV in some capacity or other.

Most recently I discovered that he had been ennobled - why I really have no idea at all, except that for some very arcane reason it must have been politically expedient for someone or other in government to do so - and is now Lord Berkeley (technically Michael Fitzhardinge Berkeley, Baron Berkeley of Knighton, but that means that if I - don’t worry, non-Brits are exempt, something to do with European Union regulations, I think - were ever to meet him, I would be obliged to courtesy three times and sing the National Anthem.

The last piece on the programme on that particular night was an organ piece by the great man himself. And that, dear reader, brings me right back to the issue in hand: I remember just three things about Berkeley’s organ piece: it was exceptionally loud, it consisted of a great many discordant notes and, most to the point, it was bloody awful. Quite bloody awful. It was unashamedly noisy, a cacophony. Furthermore, there was nothing about it which might have alerted even a dumbwit musical fuck such as me that there somewhere in its indiscriminate and brutal cascade of chords was something, that some intricate part of it - a schemata, clever, witty musical juxtapositions, perhaps, quotations - somehow justified (I think the modern phrase is ‘validated’) that awful, awful noise and made it ‘music’. Here I must defend myself: I am not one of those who insists that music ‘should have a tune, don’t you know’. There are a great many pieces I like which to many might well sound like indiscriminate ‘noise’.

One of my favourite guitarists (and here I am addressing you, Mr Morell, quite directly, as I think you will certainly know his work - and the rest of you must read on to understand why) is a certain David Fiuczynski. He is, I’m sure, not to everyone’s taste. But he is most certainly to mine, as are Shostakovich, Janacek and Bartok, none of whom, many might agree, comes up with ‘tunes’ you might care to hum to yourself as you make your weary way home after a hard day selling insurance. The important point is this: Berkeley - Lord Berkeley - had composed a piece of ‘modern classical music’, noisy or not, and thus, for far too many, all bets are off. It was ‘modern classical’, see, and who are we mere mortals to quibble and risk showing ourselves up as tasteless plebs?

Putting on my cynical hat, I might even suggest that some of my fellow concertgoers who heard Berkeley’s piece might well have concurred with me, but told themselves that although they didn’t really think much of what they heard - it went on for about 15 minutes - ‘that piece by that chap Berkeley, you know, the loud organ piece right at the end of the concert, you know the really noisy piece on the organ, well I can’t say it did much for me at all, did it for you, dear? but, well, you know, it’s modern music, isn’t it, I mean it is, isn’t it? And who are you and I to understand modern classical?’

One day, many years ago, I was listening to Radio 3 (Classic FM for more ‘serious types’, the kind of stuck-up folk who poo-poo the idea of buying ‘The Best Bits Of Mozart, Chopin, Brahms and Mantovani’ at Wal-Mart - me? Snobbish?) when I heard a glorious piece of solo piano. It was a beauty, just the kind of thing I like. Pure, simple, unassuming, honest (but I don’t want to write more or else I’ll come across as pretentious0. It was quite simply lovely, and as it went on, I consciously made an effort to concentrate so that when It ended I could hear who the ‘composer’ was. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Bach, but, well, was it one of his contemporaries? Certainly, I thought, untutored then as now, that is was a piece written in the late 17th or early 18th century. Finally I found out. It was a guy called Lennie Tristano, which didn’t sound too 18th century to me. And who, some of you might now be asking, as I was asking when I first heard the name, was Lennie Tristano?

This was before the internet, so finding out stuff wasn’t half as easy. But I discovered that Lennie Tristano was a highly respected jazz pianist, blind (from the age of six, I found out later), and who after a career playing with many of the greats had given up performing, to the surprise of many, to teach. What was crucial, however, in my first encounter with Lennie Tristano was that the first recording I heard was not with the usual jazz set-up of piano, bass and drums, but the man playing on his own. So there was, as it were, no ‘clue’ that this might be ‘jazz’. It was simply music. And at that first hearing, because of the radio station playing it and because of the time of day (that is it wasn’t part of a programme dedicated to jazz) I thought it was ‘classical music’.

(Trying to track down that first piece, I found, on Spotify, G Minor Complex which is here (you can find it below), though whether it was the piece I heard on the radio I don’t know. Perhaps, but it now sounds to me far jazzier than I might have heard it. But then, dear, dear - dear - reader, I was younger, a mere stripling, much perhaps like you. But if it was this, you’ll understand what I mean. If not, off to another blog, now. On second thoughts, it might have been C Minor Complex (also below). I think it might be. In fact, I think it was. Pianists the world over, please listen to this, then give up. Then stop giving up, and try to be even better. You might, who knows? But at least try.)

I’m sure among ‘jazzers’ that Lennie Tristano is well-known and well-respected, but as far as I can tell his is not a name you much hear bandied about, like that of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines, Bud Powell, Art Tatum and the rest (i.e. this sucker’s knowledge is a tad limited. More to the point at that first encounter over 30 years ago, I first began to wonder about the bizarre, and to my mind, snobbish and quite phoney, distinction made between ‘modern contemporary music’, ‘modern classical music’ and ‘modern jazz’. I must - and ‘must’ is the pertinent word - make an admission: I am just your average punter. My knowledge of music is pretty much restricted to knowing that a C chord on the guitar has a different shape to the G chord. I do know - or I think I do know - that there can be an architecture to a piece of music which helps sustain (i.e. stops it collapsing in on itself) a ‘classical’ concerto or sonata or symphony. I also ‘know’ that composers can have different keys and parts of a piece relating to each other, that they can, in fact, get up to all kinds of technical stuff and that if you know what is going on, it can well bring you an greater level of appreciation and enjoyment. Unfortunately, my cloth ears are deaf to any of that.

Our own Thomas Beacham once said that ‘the English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes’. Well, substitute ‘understand’ for ‘like’ (and for ‘noise’ substitute ‘sound’) and that is, more or less, me. OK, over the years I have come by far to prefer the subtle chords of a jazz pianist and guitarist and the progressions he (or she) make to the block solid and exceptionally dull C, G and D progressions of, say a Neil Diamond or John Denver, but at this point I’m not about to bullshit and claim that I have much musical knowledge. For me the pleasure is in the hearing and the listening. And I get just as much pleasure from the subtleties of jazz as of ‘classical’ and ‘modern contemporary’ music. . . . And so, pretty inelegantly it has to be said, I finally get to jazz guitarist Justin Morrell (who must have the patience of a saint) and to the piece I have posted below.

I first came across him when I came across his interpretations of various tracks by Steely Dan on his album The Music Of Steely Dan (bet you didn’t see that coming). I used to love Steely Dan, but as I got older, I became increasingly irritated by the fact that they, two guys who obviously love jazz, never cut loose. Yes, I know they operated in the pop world, and rather like folk who go to McDonald’s and would be mortified to be offered anything but a McDonalds’ Crapburger with Cheese and Fries, Becker and Fagen fans would be mortified to be offered a rendition of one of their songs live which did not slavishly reproduce the records; but there seemed to me to be a glaring and disappointing lack that, when they toured and played live, they didn’t put their jazz chops where their ostensible souls lay. To be blunt, I would far prefer to go and hear a small, unknown, and possibly even not particularly good jazz band than attend another Steely Dan concert.

I have only heard them live once, in Wembley in whenever it was (NB Google tells me it was September 10, 1996, and when, sitting in the second row, I demanded, to Donald Fagen’s obvious irritation, that they play Hotel California0. I was pretty disillusioned when Walter Becker, one half of what until then I had regarded as the kings of cool, greeted the audience with that hoary old, corny old pop concert line ‘Hello, London, we love your fish and chips’. Oh, God, give me a break! (I once heard Miles Davis play in the St David’s Hall in Cardiff and he didn’t – thank the Lord - come out with ‘Hello, Wales, we like your rugby/daffodils/prostitutes/coal’.)

The final straw was when Donald Fagen, the other half of what until then, or almost then, I had regarded as the kings of cool, recently published a kind of autobiography and called it ‘Eminent Hipsters’. Well, for this Steely Dan fan, Mr Morell and his band did with the music of Messrs Fagen and Becker what those two should have been doing long, long ago. He turned them into jazz. But Fagen and Becker seem to prefer swanning around from one New York art scene to another to playing jazz. OK, I don’t doubt that Fagen, a pianist, and Becker, a guitarist, try their hand at it in the privacy of their own bedrooms (although as a guitarist Becker seems to do nothing much but noodle), but that is a long way off getting on stage and playing live for all its worth. I never chased up Justin Morell’s music until a few weeks ago when I took was listening to his Steely Dan takes and took to wondering what he had been doing recently. So I came across (and I’m sure I’ll get the names wrong) one of his latest recordings with Dectet. Here is his Fugue in E. (Allow it, and the two Lennie Tristano pieces further below, time to load.)

 Courtesy of Justin Morell.

My point, given the rambling above about the, to my mind, offensively phoney distinction between ‘modern classical music’ and a great deal of ‘jazz’ music being made today it that if Morell’s Fugue in E were introduced on, say Radio 3, as ‘modern classical’ or ‘modern contemporary’ music, it would be taken wholly at face value. Some might comment that it ‘has quite interesting jazzy overtones’, but they would not, if told it was ‘modern contemporary’, disagree. I have listened to it many times since I came across it, and one echo I hear is the music of Kurt Weill. Whether or not Justin Morell is conscious of it (or is even at all pleased with the reference) I really don’t know. In the next few days I shall give you a few more tasters of Justin Morell’s music. For one thing he has the nous (US ‘know-how’?) to choose some very, very good co-players.

Every year for the past few years, I have spent a week in the Bordeaux region in France accompanying my 80-year-old aunt to a series of concerts held during July. I have several times told her how dishonest I think is the distinction made by some between ‘modern classical music’ and ‘jazz music’, but unfortunately she is old school and insists it is a valid one. And she always reminds me of when she heard Daniel Barenboim once being asked in a TV interview what he thought of jazz. He didn’t reply, she says, he just gave a rather dismissive smirk. Oh well.
I can’t for the life of me remember what the Lennie Tristano piece was I heard all those years ago. But to give you a flavour or the man’s playing and his work, here are two solo pieces:

 Lennie Tristano’s G Minor Complex.

 Lennie Tristano’s C Minor Complex.

. . .

Speaking of noble gents, Lords, and diffidence untainted by EU interferecne, there’s a good story about the late Lord Hailsham, who was once one of our Lord Chancellors in the 1970s. and was once crossing a public square outside the House of Lords, dressed in all is traditional Lord Chancellor’s finery and quite possibly surrounded by flunkies. The square was full of tourists at the time (though I should imagine it is now crawling with armed police, such is our faith in the good will of our Muslim cousins). Hailsham spotted some yards away an old friend from his days in chambers called ‘Neil’, so he raised his arm to attract the man’s attention and bellowed out: ‘Neil!’ Upon which a group of American tourists a few feet way who had been taking photos of him in his ceremonial gladrags dutifully got down on their knees. Aaah, sweet)

Monday, May 19, 2014

You can lead a horse to water . . . I begin the task of trying to wean my son off Total Bollocks III on his Xbox and introduce him to something which might in later years give him more lasting pleasure. And you, too, might like some of these pieces

NB Have a bit of patience when loading this page. These soundfiles seem to load and play in Safari (on a Mac laptop) , Firefox and Chrome (on Macs and PCs) but don’t seem to on Opera on either platform. After spending a lot of time trying to find out how I can post soundfiles directly to the blog rather than create a video, use the soundfile as the soundtrack, upload it to YouTube, embed then embed the bloody video in the blog (around the houses or what?), I have now discovered that browsers which ‘know’ HTML5 (and, no, I haven’t a clue either, but there you go) can use a simply code. Opera obviously doesn’t. Also works on Internet Explorer on a PC, and also on my Android smartphone.

I’m sure every parent is apt to magnify what they regard as the talents of their children, while at the same time being rather blind to their faults and shortcomings. My daughter, 18 in just over two months, listen to a lot of music on her phone and the radio, but it is the usual crap played on phones and radios. Furthermore, and by her own admission, she can’t, as we say kindly ‘hold a tune’. She once put it to me with admirable candour that she ‘couldn’t sing for toffee’.

Actually, I don’t necessarily think she has tested her potential musical abilities as much as she might and, who knows, she might be a late developer. Her brother is rather different, and although he has now given up on the drums and hasn’t been near ukulele he asked to have for Christmas in what seems like eight years, I rather suspect that he does have a certain musical ability which might be worth nurturing. I first thought so several years ago when he quite astounded me in la-la-la-in to me two quite intricate theme tunes to two drama series which were showing on TV at the time.

My father showed no interest in music, and I can’t remember him ever listening to it. He reminded me of the anecdote of some US president or other who was said to know only two tunes: Yankee Doodle Dandy and all the tunes which weren’t Yankee Doodle Dandy. On the other hand my mother did like music and when I was younger went to concerts with her when we lived in Berlin because my father refused to. I even saw the late Otto Klemperer conduct, sitting in some kind of high chair because he was pretty incapacitated.

My older brother (the schizophrenic) had a certain musical ability, playing piano and guitar reasonably well, but as far as I know my sister (sorry, M.) (Later, May 29: Apparently I have been a tad unkind to my sister. She has been happily singing in a choir for these past 15 years, which, now I think about it she has told me about quite often. So, sorry, M, but for a different reason) and my younger brother lost out on those particular genes. I can’t claim to have much musical ability and my guitar playing is basic. I could, at a pinch, bamboozle someone who knew little about guitar playing into thinking I ‘wasn’t bad’, but a good guitar player would quite rightly have me down as a nine-bob note with 30 seconds.

But I do love music and listen to a lot of it. And it occurred to me that were I to try a little, coax a little, drew out a little, I might somehow be able to spark a similar interest in my son. I suspect our tastes become a little more sophisticated as we grow older: young children go a bundle on sweets and such which would disgust the palate of an older man or women. But young children don’t as a rule go for olives, or chicory, garlic, the foods which are known as something of an acquired taste.

When I was my son’s age – he is 15 in five days – I went a bundle on The Beatles, The Kinks and other groups, but whose music, when I listen to it now, seems to me rather thin gruel. As I have got older, I have grown to like ‘classical music’ and jazz more and more. Both seem to offer more substance, more body. But to try to spark an interest in my son (which, I’m sure, just needs elucidating) needs a little tact and guile. I think it would be counterproductive to introduce him at this point to, say, a Shostakovich symphony or Shoenberg or Vaughan Williams.

When I was ten, I began to attend a Jesuit college in Berlin. School was, as they do in Germany, six days a week from 8.30am until 1pm. I would be home at just before two, have my lunch, then dawdle around for a while before sitting down to going my homework. And every afternoon while doing my homework I would be tuned into AFN (the American Forces Network) to listen to the Don Ameche Pop concert. I can’t remember a single tune or song I heard except one, his signature tune, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

I now gather that among snobby types, you know, the sophisticated sort for whom it is as important to be seen at a concert as well as hear the music, Tchaikovsky is a tad infra dig, rather too ‘accessible’ for polite society. Well, more fools them. And that piece, with its striking opening bars is surely one of the best ways to be quietly introduced to the beauty of some classical pieces.

My idea was to buy a small MP3 player and load it with ten shortish pieces which I think might interest my son. And, yes, they are ‘accessible’, but at this stage that would be no bad strategy. And for the sake of writing this post I have also added nine of those pieces below. I couldn’t unfortunately include the Tchaikovsky because the method I used to post MP3s of the pieces so you can listen to them didn’t allow me to upload it.

All the pieces are, in my view, very beautiful, although, of course, beauty is by no means a prerequisite of interesting, satisfying music. But I’ve chosen them because I think – I hope they might appeal to my son and encourage him in later years to do some exploring. There is no Bach, because ironically Bach needs listening and is not as ‘accessible’ – what an awful word, but I am obliged to use it – as other pieces. There is a predominance of second movements merely because a great number of them have a melody with a certain immediate attraction.

So go on, listen to them. Don’t bother listening to all at once. Listen to one, possibly two, then come back another time.

PS I was planning a post on why I think the distinction between ‘classical’ music, ‘modern’ music and jazz is essentially phoney and snobbish, but that will have to wait.

Stabat Mater - Pergolesi Giovanni Battista

Second movement of Beethoven's Piano Concert No 5

Second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21

Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata In F Minor, K 466

Claire de lune - Claude Debussy

Second movement Symphony No 7 - Beethoven

Second movement Piano Sonata No 14 - Beethoven

Requiem In D Minor, K 626 - 8. Sequentia, Lacrimosa - Mozart

Second movement String Quartet in C - Josef Haydn

Friday, May 16, 2014

In which my son asks for a dog for his birthday and I say No, and my name is now mud

Going through a slight ‘Dad is a bastard’ phase here in Powell Towers, because I have vetoed the suggestion that my son should be allowed to have a dog for his 15th birthday. I am, when push comes to shove, pretty much of a softy when it comes to my children, but in this instance I think I’ll be standing my just don’t think it would be a very good idea at all, even though I rather like dogs.

Previously, about four years ago, my son developed an enthusiasm for playing the drums. So he had drum lessons and got a secondhand set from his cousin, which though not cheap at £70 was a damn sight cheaper than getting a new set. Carried
on with his lessons, and would often call me through to his room to admire the latest technique he had mastered (although at the still simple level he was playing I wonder whether the word ‘technique’ is rather overstating it).

But bit by bit I noticed his playing sessions were shorter and shorter and shorter until he wasn’t playing at all. I did mention this to him and he admitted he had lost interest. I told him that many a lad (or even lass) who was still enthusiastic but without a drum set would give his or her eye teeth (‘eyeteeth’, ‘eye-teeth’? Suggestions, please, on the usual postcard addressed to: Pedant’s Corner, Powell Towers, Middle of Nowhere, Cornwall, Great Britain) for a set like his and why didn’t he sell them on? But he wasn’t keen. And, to be honest, nor was I because I was hoping, and still rather forlornly hope, that his enthusiasm will be rekindled.

The acid test is quite simple: if you are interested, you play, if you aren’t you don’t. I have played guitar, not outstandingly well, it has to be said, although lately I am finally - finally - putting a bit more effort in by learning different scales, since I was about his age. I bought my first guitar when I was 22. Until then I would, at school,
You wish. Yeah, for about ten minutes
play whatever guitar was knocking around in someone’s study, and then at college, the flat I lived in for several years had a - bloody awful - guitar. That did me fine for many years. Then I bought an electric guitar, and when that was stolen in a burglary, another.

More recently I bought myself what I’ve discovered is called a ‘parlour’ guitar, and I also have a bass guitar. My point is that I have willingly and enthusiastically played guitar for close on 150 years, and never had to force my self to pick one up. Indeed, I can be one of those bores who will pick up and play a guitar if I ever come across one in someone’s house, although in more recent years I have curtailed that, rather bad, habit, as not everyone is that keen.

The there was my son’s enthusiasm for playing the ukulele. He got it into his head that he wanted to learn and asked for one for Christmas and I also went to the effort of googling ukulele chords, printing some out and laminating them. And he did play it, for about a week and a half. Since then he hasn’t touched it. He says he has wanted a dog for years, and that is true, but I have pointed out to him that a dog is a living being, not just another possession. His cousins who live in the farm on the other side of the lane have a small mutt called Oscar and he and his cousin regularly take Oscar for a walk. I tell him he should try to satisfy his ‘love of dogs’ or whatever it is with Oscar.

As we live in the depths of the countryside, there would be no danger of the mutt being cooped up in the house for hours on end, only to be let out to have a crap, the results of which are then carefully scooped up and slipped into a pocket (which is

What happens after about ten minutes - and goes on for the next 12 years
what folk have to do in towns and cities). Here, he or she would be able to shit where the bloody hell he likes, though quite how my wife would square that with her rancid dislike of local cats who have the temerity to beard her and shit in our garden I really don’t know. The think is that I actually like dogs.

Our cottage is not big and my wife is - was - talking about getting a puppy, but I don’t think she realises quite how boisterous and destructive puppies can be until they grow up, mature and settle into dull complacency like the rest of us. Nor do I want to get lumbered with a daily duty of taking the dog for a walk.

My daughter is 18 in August and off to college in September, and my son will, I trust, be off to college in three years. But dogs tend to live a lot longer than that. When the idea was first mooted a few years ago, I suggested we could compromise and get a cat.

Cats are far less hassle. Cats don’t have to be taken for walks. Cats don’t mooch around sulking if you don’t ‘play’ with them’. Cats need to be fed and have access to the outside world for pooing and peeing and that kind of thing. Cats really are a lot less hassle. But my wife doesn’t like cats, although why I don’t know.

So there you have it. Yesterday I put my foot down and said there would be no dog in this house and ever since my name has been mud and my presence barely tolerated.

My suspicion is that I shall be overruled and that either next Wednesday night or the following Wednesday night when I roll in home from London (his birthday is on Sunday, May 25), I shall find some bloody cute bundle of puppiness lying in a basket next to the Rayburn. If so I shall take it like a man. I shan’t make a fuss and accept a fait accompli. But what I shall not be doing is taking the bloody think for walks or paying a penny in vets’ bills. Forgot to mention those, didn’t I. Ever wondered why vets drive around in spanking new sports cars with gold bumpers and seats covered in calfskin while you and I have to put up with a secondhand bicycle? So have I.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eurovision, kitsch and queer popes, some of whom might now be saints, wifi radios and showing the Tudors a thing or two: as I promised it’s time to get EDGY (if only I knew what that bloody meant). As for the words queer or nigger or spic or kike or greaseball – me, looking for trouble? – Lenny Bruce sums it up rather well

As I write, the kitschfest known as Eurovision (the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’) is being broadcast (and has been for what really does seem like the past five days), and if there are ‘them’ out there ‘watching us’ and hoping to save Earth from destruction (i.e. ourselves), they are undoubtedly beyond horror. I would like to write that it is quite beyond belief how a reputed ‘civilisation’ can stage this kind of nonsense, but after the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics and, more recently, the 2014 Winter Olympics I’ve concluded it is wisest to be prepared for the worst always. We must never drop our guard: kitsch is on the rampage, people, and to those intent on surviving its evil intent I can only counsel eternal vigilance: make no mistake, it’s out to get us (©Loons The World Over).

OK, I’m as liberal and broadminded as the next prig, and I do accept that some folk (sadly, my wife and daughter for two) do enjoy this kind of cack, but if any more proof were ever needed that, to paraphrase H. L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public (some sources say ‘taste’ but I really can’t be arsed to discover which it is), Eurovision and those opening ceremonies must be it.

But it wasn’t TV’s latest kitschfest which has brought on my latest bout of dyspepsia: it was noticing, while surfing the net and coming across a report on the BBC News website, that the present pope is casting around for a reason to turn a former pope, Paul XI, into a saint. This comes just weeks after he canonised Pope John XXIII, Paul’s predecessor, and John Paul II (who, incidentally, reputedly had second thoughts about accepting the papacy when he was voted in because as a Pole he wasn’t too sure he wanted to live in an Italian neighbourhood). As John XXIII died just over 51 years ago, Paul XI 36 years ago, and John Paul II just nine years ago, this all seems to be happening with indecent haste. So for the connections between Eurovision and the Vatican: few do kitsch better than those two.

I am, by the way, one of those who refuses to accept that John Paul’s predecessor John Paul I died a natural death and firmly believe he was bumped off by an unholy alliance of the Mafia, unsavoury figures surrounding Archbishop Marcinkus and the reputed ‘gay mafia’ which took root in the Vatican while Paul XI was pope. Paul was apparently also gay whose boyfriend was a well-known actor. If he was, there is, of course, nothing wrong with that except that the Roman Catholic church’s hypocrisy in giving gays a rough deal over the sexuality they were born with does make it all a little hard to swallow.

There are also claims (there are ‘claims’ about most things, by the way, and although it is always very entertaining listening to them, it is also wisest, at least initially, to take them with a large grain of salt) that John Paul I was gay, but they are based on the fact that while Patriarch of Venice he was remarkably openminded and liberal about homosexuality. In fact while checking one or two dates while writing this blog, I came across the following quote which rather endears John Paul I to me. It was contained in a speech he made to cardinals while Paul VI was still pope:

The day is not far off when we will have to answer to these people who through the years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose human dignity has been offended, their identity denied and their liberty oppressed. What is more we will have to answer to the God who created them.
And, yes, he was speaking about gay men and women.

But back to kitschfests and the canonisation of three popes in what seems like the past ten minutes. Why the rush? Doesn’t the Catholic church have enough saints? And if the intention is to honour these three men, couldn’t some other way have been found? I think (that is I might be wrong and am prepared to be corrected by whatever pedant cares to email me to set me straight) that in order for a man or woman to be canonised two miracles must be attributed to them, miracles which took place when their ‘intercession with God’ was prayed for.

Well, I am one of the uncouth types who believes the definition of a ‘miracle’ is what cannot yet be explained, but which will at some point in the future be perfectly explicable. I mean, were I to travel back in time with my dinky little personal wifi radio (and were the internet available, which, of course, it wasn’t) and were I to turn it on and play to some Tudor folk broadcasts from Russia, Australia, Cuba,

South Africa, Armenia or Iran, what was taking place would most certainly be regarded as a miracle. And if, while I was showing off just what a cool character I was, what with my personal wifi radio and my quite marvellous collection of laptops - seven at the last count, but not all used by me - a plane were to fly overhead - you know the kind we see quite a few off these days, especially if we have the misfortune to live in Hounslow - and I explained to my Tudor audience what it was and where it was going, not only would I be viewed as a source of fabulous miracles, but I would be lucky not to be burned alive as a witch. But this - Tudors spotting jet planes in the sky and me showing off my latest gadget - is a long way from what I was speaking about.

As what is quaintly called a ‘cradle Catholic’, that is one who was born and baptised into the church and not one who ‘converted’ because he fancied the Duke of Norfolk’s youngest daughter and realised he would have to marry her before he could legitimately shag her, I feel I am entitled to my views about the RC church (although I have a very close relative who is rather more attached to it than I am and who reads this blog, so I shall be a little more circumspect in my scorn than I usually am). But this latest bout of saint making is, as far as I am concerned, par for the course.

Incidentally, why do we rule out any suggestion that Pope John Paul I might well have been murdered because we now live in the ‘modern world’ where that kind of thing doesn’t happen and when the Vatican and the papacy has, throughout the ages, at times been a cesspit of vice and murder? Is there really something ‘more respectable’ about the mid-20th century - he died in 1978 - which precludes criminals with a great deal to lose from resorting to that measure? I rather think criminals, whether of the Renaissance or of a more modern era, are eminently pragmatic. The only rule they tend to observe is one often known as the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not be caught.

So there we have it: from one kitschfest to another. The real puzzle is why the Vatican doesn’t have its own entry in the Eurovision song contest. But I’m sure that will come at some point now that I have mentioned it and the Vatican secret service - Gianni and Carmello, as it happens, I once shared a flat with the two of them in Milan in 1973 - have noted my suggestion. Ciao ragazzi!

Oh, and if some of this strikes you, my dear, dear, dear reader as a little more incoherent than usual, yes, wine was involved and drunk during its composition, but I can assure you that no animals were harmed, though mainly because I couldn’t find the bloody cat.

. . .

No one, of course, refers to gays as ‘queers’ anymore, except gays themselves, and when they do it, it’s because they want to make a point. The same goes for the word ‘nigger’: it is now a complete no-no for us all except for blacks themselves, and again they want to make a point. And when they use it, there is absolutely none of the baggage in the word that would be there if it were used by a white. When a black uses the word, there is none – how could there be? – of the hatred, fear and sheer contempt in it which would be central to its use by a white. And I can think of no circumstances where its use by a white would be acceptable.

Yet it really is not as straightforward as that, a point made by Lenny Bruce (a ‘yid’, a ‘jewboy’ to those who still care to use those terms) in one of his funniest routines. On paper, it wouldn’t be funny at all. In fact, at best it would get him banned from the BBC for life, and if his luck were really on a downturn, he might even find himself in court where he still alive today to perform it.

The routine (and I shall spend a few moments in a minute seeing whether a recording of it is available on You Tube) is excellent proof the the adage is true that it ‘ain’t the joke, it’s the way you tell it’. Now, amuse yourself for a minute or two while I head off to You Tube. Think I’ve found it.

Watch (or rather, listen to) this:


It is, in fact a clip from the film Lenny, with Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce, but the script is word for word Bruce’s routine. But even so I think the point is well made.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Today, a special ‘dangerously liberal’ blog posted specifically for morons who are nothing of the kind (liberal that is, or even dangerously liberal). In fact, one would be hard-pressed to discern any kind of attitude except ‘what’s on next?’

(If, by the way, you don’t get the allusion to ‘dangerously liberal’ here might be a good starting point. Or, for all I know, a good ending point. Depends on you, of course, I’m nothing if not dangerously liberal.)

As far as I know the slaughter is going on in Syria and has carried on - well, ever since it really started several years ago. But you wouldn’t know it from our media here in Britain, not even from the pages of the saintly, caring Guardian or the sober, responsible BBC. What with the growing violence in the Ukraine - I heard today that between 40,000 and 48,000 Russian combat troops are camped on the border, plus a similar number of support troops (drivers, medics, sappers, borscht cooks and vodka distillers) - Syria is no longer, as we say in the trade, ‘sexy’ and the media and its expense account have moved on to more recent savagery.

Unlike Syria, the problems that our unfolding in the Ukraine, are still being reported. The US and the EU are, apparently, threatening to consider getting ‘really tough (‘Look, Vladimir, whatever you might think, we’re really, really, really not joking, and if you don’t shape up and, you know, start behaving responsibly, we’ll make sure none of your cronies’ wives will be able to shop at Harrods anymore. So watch it, matey!’) ’ if Russia doesn’t stop ‘interfering’ in the Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

This ‘dangerously liberal’ chap (that’s me, dear hearts, the chap whose blog you are reading) does wonder quite how while taking such a principled stand on Russia’s interference in the Ukrainian domestic affairs the US and the EU can justify its own interference in the Ukraine’s domestic affairs, but maybe I’m being a tad tactless to mention it. But, as I say, unlike Syria, the unfolding events in the Ukraine are still getting the odd report on TV

I like watching TV, I do

news and in our papers, but, to be honest, it’s all getting a little boring, what with the same kind of reports every night, so thank goodness that for folk who like to spend an evening glued to what my grandfather used to call the ‘idiot’s lantern’, there is other, more ‘accessible’ fare if you find the occasional news bulletin from the world’s trouble spots a little too hard to take after a hard day in the office.

If you are one of those who, you know, likes to relax a little in the evening before going to bed and not screwing your other half, you are well catered for. Take, for example, Parking Mad, a ‘documentary’ which was broadcast last night at 9pm on BBC 1.

Parking Mad spent a full 60 minutes looking at the world of parking a car or a van and getting it wrong to such an extent that drivers attracted the attention of a traffic warden who would then usually present the idiot driver with a parking ticket. And that was it. I didn’t actually watch it, my my desktop computer on which on a Thursday night I am obliged to do a bit of extra-curricular work for my employer in order to earn an extra shekel or two every week, shares the living room with our TV set. And - I am so ashamed, I can only whisper this quietly, ‘my wife watched it. Sssh.’

So I did catch the occasional glimpse and was treated to such fascinating snippets as a Nigerian getting absolutely furious because he was given a parking ticket, the chap visiting an ‘independent adjudicator’ because he felt he had been unfairly given a parking ticket (good on him! You really must stand up to the tyrannies of modern life, as our cousins in Syria are now discovering or you’ll be walked all over!), and the driving instructor who was given a parking ticket halfway through a lesson and whose pupil subsequently missed her driving test (poor lamb. Lord, was she upset).

I’ve got to come clean here and admit I find the problems caused by not finding anywhere legal to park and the tribulations our doughty traffic wardens face daily less interesting than last Tuesday’s weather forecast. And I am equally immune to the delights of hearing all about work in a South Wales call centre, but apparently I’m in a minority because the programmes detailing what shenanigans occur is well into its second series.

For those of you unlucky enough not to live in the good old U of K and who think I am making this up, the fourth instalment in the second series was broadcast on BBC 3 on Tuesday, April 29, at 9pm and if those who are entertained by that kind of mindless crap missed it, it was repeated just over three hours later.

Other gems Britain’s TV services have treated viewers to over these past few years is several series about people with dirty houses, a six-part series on the lives and loves of a number of town planners, several series detailing the lives of men who drive Eddie Stobart trucks for a living (‘Dave was getting increasingly worried that the traffic jam would delay him to such an extent that he would be late delivering his load of bacon offcuts. Would he make it?’) and a series all about working as an estate agent in the Outer Hebrides.

As they say, if you really, really want in television, you’ve got to be passionate about it. That’s one reason why I have never tried for a job in television. And I wonder how much TV the good folk of Syria are enjoying at the moment.

To be fair, you will find several news reports of the latest events in Syria on the Daily Telegraph and Guardian website (and, I don’t doubt, on The Times website, but as it is now behind a paywall and our family motto is Don’t Part With A Penny If It Is At All Possible Not To Part With A Penny, I don’t bother with The Times). But the charge still stands that even the editors of those two papers seem to have deemed the Syrian conflict no longer sexy, so it the war there has inexorably slid down the news list. As the TV services, if you can entertain morons with stories about parking disasters and wacky folk in call centres, why risk boring them with stuff they might well find upsetting. I mean, you can see their point, can’t you?

, , ,

It was eight years today that I had my heart attack. (I won’t describe it as ‘my first’ for fear of tempting fate.) I was glad I was in London at the time, because very soon after going to see the nurse at work because I ‘wasn’t

feeling at all well’ - none of the ‘crushing pain’ for me for some reason - I fell unconscious, was given oxygen, bundled into an ambulance about 30 minutes later and had a stent inserted within about ten minutes of arriving at hospital. Incidentally, we no longer have a nurse at work, but then that’s ‘innovation’ for you. Might well be a ‘pilot scheme’.