Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Newstead Abbey in the sunshine

Mad, bad and dangerous to know --- but inexplicably Newstead Abbey, former home of the local bad boy of Romantic Poetry, Lord Byron, does not actually sell t-shirts with this famous description of the man himself.

It was nice to finally go around the remains of the abbey and the later Byron family house as a grown-up: I'd been to the gardens as a kid but not in the house itself. It's actually a rather good visit with some interesting displays and there was certainly more to see than I imagined!

Anyway, we had a lovely day in the sunshine, watching waders and enjoying the gardens. Photos below...

Cloud at Newstead Abbey, NottsCloud outside the grand entrance to Newstead Abbey.

Newstead Abbey gardensGardens of Newstead Abbey

Rullsenberg at Newstead AbbeyRullsenberg standing in the sun at Newstead Abbey

Wader at Newstead Abbey garden lily pondWader at Newstead Abbey garden lily pond

Boatswain the dog - memorial, Newstead AbbeyMemorial to Boatswain, Byron's dog

Shady trees at Newstead AbbeyA shady area at Newstead Abbey gardens

Final Monotonix pictures - I'll shut up now...

Just a final few pictures, courtesy of Neil's camera, of the Monotonix experience of Summer Sundae (inexplicably unmentioned in either the Observer or Morning Star* reviews!)

MonotonixAnd the madness begins...

MonotonixHead over heels with Monotonix

Monotonix"Everybody say 'Ringo!"

Monotonix"Am I crazy?" says Monotonix frontman....

JMonotonixSinging on the balcony before that infamous jump....

* However, the Morning Star did have a very fetching photo of some impromptu musicianship on the main stage grassy bank. And to the far side of the image you could just see my t-shirt sleeve and part of my handbag. National press fame at last!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food and drink and other Summer Sundae treats

Summer Sundae is a nice moderate sized festival: a bit too big to be truly boutique now (I would say) but then I am comparing it to the titchy-tiny T'IndieTracks.

Anyway, one of things I love about the festival is that it has a nice range of stalls and food available. This continued this year and we certainly enjoyed availing ourselves of the Summer Sundae Burritos, the Northfield Burgers (minus extra fly protein) and the real ales.

Neil and George - pints at Summer Sundae 2009
Neil and George enjoying pints.

Having said that though, with the loss of 6Music as a main sponsor, it did seem that Summer Sundae had been forced to take on a bit more in the way of corporate sponsorship affecting their food/drink ranges.

Gone were the delightful made to order proper pizza oven pizzas, and in came Pizza Express: now I like PE, but even so the loss of the independent provider was annoying.

More annoying was the impact that Bulmers had. Now again, I like Bulmers cider ... (NO ICE THAT IS AN ABOMINATION! -- sorry, I've finished shouting now...)

... but I was bloody annoyed, furious in fact, to find that thanks to Bulmers sponsorship and huge stall the sweet little beer tent was no longer allowed to sell any other type of cider!

What??! You can't even let the beer tent sell Scrumpy Jack - which you make?! And also you're so scared your product won't sell that it can't cope with some competition from Westons???!

Meh. I was quite cross.

Not as you can tell.

And the sun was shining much of the weekend.

So it wasn't all bad.

Nevertheless, despite this corporatisation, there were some independent treats at Summer Sundae 2009: these included the wonderful performances put in at 'The Hurly Burly'.

It really is quite something to think through the ads for new staff with Hurly Burly:

"can you cook and serve food?"
"can you also sing, dance, play a musical instrument and be prepared to mime along to songs to an audience?"
"...erm.... what kind of food do you serve again?!"

Seriously though, this lot were great. Not only was the food fab but they were also jolly entertaining. It certainly takes something to persuade hungry festival goers to delay their requests for food whilst you do a few tunes!

They also did a wonderful performance along with Talking Heads 'Once in a Lifetime' which not only had the women performing but also the guys from the kitchen at the back! Utterly mad but totally delightful. A festival treat to prove it wasn't all corporate.

Summer Sundae 2009: Friday focus - múm with pictures

I keep forgetting to make sure that múm is lower-case and with the accent [mother, I still love you, but this isn't a pean to your quirky music].

Anyway múm are an Icelandic combo -- see, you're already interested aren't you?! -- who specialise in electronic sounds, accompanied by strings, horns and a variety of odd intruments (recorders are not your average band's choice...).

Though the personnel has changed a few times, they continue to produce delightfully mystical, ethereal melodies and hypnotic beats. George was keen to be near the front and, since he hadn't got his own camera with him, nudged for photographs of the two females fronting the band.

Atmospheric Mum shot SS2009

Girls of Mum SS2009

Band shot Mum SS2009

Brilliantly, as Summer Sundae was the only UK tour date for múm, this was included in some video footage in their video diary:

I have to say that seeing the band live was wonderful: I first really heard of the band via a great collection of Fat Cat records called Branches and Routes (which features some fabulous tracks and is heartily recommended as a taster). There is something special about them and the sounds they create and they're definitely worth seeing live.

BM and AM - Summer Sundae 2009 treats (Sunday)

Before Monotonix there had been another leisurely pace of getting up with a sausage and egg breakfast, followed by the fun of watching a SatNav being set for Leicester city centre. Music wise we were just aware of the sunshine which we expected to be the highlight of the day.

Ah how wrong could we have been?! Monotonix dominated once they arrived... And it seems to have been the chief topic of conversation on the net since the appearance: BBC Leicester capture the Monotonix experience well in their photographs. Ours will be forthcoming...

Anyway, before M were even a crossing thought, we caught a bit of Megadub (entertaining) and then moved to take up the sun watching MaybeSheWill on the main stage.

Sounding rather like Explosions in the Sky, Maybeshewill are pretty darn good actually and certainly I'll keep an eye on their releases.

I then moved inside to catch Woodpigeon (see the Monotonix post for more on Woodpigeon) and really enjoyed the chance to see live a band I had been listening to for some time.

Woodpigeon Summer Sundae 2009
We also, BM, caught Devon Sproule on the main stage: very charming and dry country performer who seemed thrilled with the response she got on that hot sunny afternoon.

Of course, being caught up in the Monotonix experience did mean we missed out on Port O'Brien (hence my delight when they turned up in session on Marc Riley's 6Music show the next day!) but we did venture back to the Indoor Stage for Micachu and the Shapes.

Unfortunately, by this point the George had to depart so we had hugs and stuff and then Neil and I delighted in the sunny delights of some reggae covers by the Easy Star All-Stars.

Neil and I then moved back to the Rising Stage to catch First Aid Kit, two young (and I mean young) Swedish sisters doing country songs.

First Aid Kit at Summer Sundae 2009
They really were incredibly lovely, and tremendously talented, doing full justice not only to their own songs but also to covers of Fleet Foxes' Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and also of Buffy Sainte-Marie's classic Universal Soldier (suitably adapted for these troubled times).

That the youngest sister from First Aid Kit is only 16 just highlighted how old I am getting!

After that, I was winding down and had only one more act I really wanted to see: Bon Iver.

On the final stop before leaving UK shores for some time (presumably to gather stock for the next release), Bon Iver could easily have been weary of their ultra successful word-of-mouth album 'For Emma, Forever Ago'. As it was, they were on fine form, engaging well with a large but wildly variably attentive crowd.

Personally, I was juts happy to be able to have seen them at last and to relish especially the culminating loveliness of Flume and Wolves (with its crescendo chorus of "what might have been lost").

A wonderful end to a great festival.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More BM Summer Sundae 2009 treats (Saturday)

NOTE: Updated with photos!!!
After leisurely croissants and crumpets (and coffee for the boys) we went to get the bus to town and then the train to Leicester for day two of Summer Sundae.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Mr Plow -- caught about half the set of this country-esque band. Fine stuff with a witty edge.

Frontiers -- Nottingham band, they were background to alcohol but okay. Didn't quite get where the Cure and Joy Division sound references were that the festival booklet promised but hey...

David Thomas Broughton -- definitely will get his own post!

Minaars -- Although mostly background to us lapping up the sun after seeing DTB, these were actually rather good.

The Yellow Moon Band -- with a psychedelic prog combination of drums, bass, guitar and electric acoustic guitar this rather traditional instrument mix nevertheless held considerable promise. Mostly instrumentals rather than 'songs' there was a nice sound to their work but something felt missing. If they could add something a little more unusual (not just bringing on a mandolin for a brief guitar-esque appearance) then this would have transcended the interesting and could have been marvellous. If they know any strings players or can recruit a pianist they would really go places.

Beth Jeans Houghton -- wearing big and I mean BIG blonde hair, BJH cut a distinctive figure in the Summer Sundae crowd. She may have had problems getting her (loaned) guitar to function without explosive crackling, but it was nice to see and hear her singing in the Phrased and Confused tent (this was after catching the end of Emma-Lee Moss of Emmy the Great talking about songwriting).

[Whilst I went to bag myself a space at the front of the Main Stage, Neil wandered off to see The Kabeedies, who I'd earlier caught doing their sound check. A bundle of jumpy teen bounce, Neil thought these were great.]

Broken Records -- after their glorious and uplifting appearance on the almost stupidly-too-small-for-their-numbers-stage at the Nottingham Bodega Social (supporting The Twilight Sad), it was nice to see Broken Records have more space, taking a place on the Main Stage. And it was great to hear their violin, cello, trumpet, keyboard, guitars and drums crescendos given space and air.

Broken Records SS2009
Having said that, bless 'em, their rather dark and bitter-sweet tones are perhaps not best suited to a sunny day open air slot (they noted this with irony for their 'sunny day tunes'). I had a blast singing loudly along to all the songs I knew the words of (most of the ones they played) but I suspect that it was a long drive back to Scotland in the clutch-less van taking back all 7 of the band.

Still to give you a sense of their live talent, check out this SongbyToad video for their excellent 'A Good Reason'.

Emmy the Great -- Emma-Lee Moss is lovely, a little gem of acerbic observation and narratives. Emmy the Great (the band) is... well, I actually think that she works better when the sound is more striped down. Given that her lyrics combined with the guitar and simple accompaniment produces a truer sound for her talent, it's almost a shame when the band kick off in full and her voice and wit are a little overwhelmed.
Canopies and Grapes
I wanna see you tonight
What's the point?
All we do is fight
I've loved you
So long
I don't know who I'd be without

My head hurts
I wish I'd never woke up
I feel worse
than when S Club 7 broke up
I hate the day
It hates me
So does everybody else

I sit here drooling on my own again
and like a routine episode of Friends
What does it mean to be American?
Is it
feelings, coffee and
I'll be there for you?

Later on me and a bottle will hook up to have some fun
Then I'll call your house at twelve to let you know that I'm drunk
Say I'm sorry Mr C, I was just looking for your son
How are you, incidentally, do you know if he's out alone?
There is this book he lent to me something like seven months ago
I'm gonna burn it in the street be so kind as let him know
that I'm dealing
with this badly
could he please get back to me?

Since you've gone my only friends are Billy Bragg and the Jam
Though my time with you has got me feeling oh so k.d. lang
I think you're right about the New Kids on the Block
And I agree now Billy Joel does not rock
Wish I could tell you all the things that Woody Allen helps me see
How Annie Hall is starting to seem quite a lot like you and me
It took a while to come around to David Bowie's new CD
And it's much too late to give back your Magnetic Fields EP
Can I keep it
by my pillow?
Fucking loved it
How I long to tell you so

When I get to sleep I'll dream again of canopies and grapes
And wake shaking from the knowledge that the mattress holds your shape
I assume my phone is dead because it hasn't rung for months
If tomorrow is the funeral do you think that you could come?
I could give you back your music and your t-shirts and your socks
Walk to Jazz's house in SOHO cry into her letter box
Spend some time out to resuscitate my soul
Take up smoking and drink carrot juice and grow
Teach the mattress to expel you from its folds
Then dry my eyes and keep on walking til the motion makes me strong
Until one day i realise I don't remember that you're gone
We'll be strangers
who were lovers
I'll recover
It's so weird how time goes on
See, that's just genius.

65 Days of Static -- We originally acquired the 65 Days of Static album 'The Fall of Math' from the mighty Selectadisc on the basis of a good sleeve note comment from the staff (the Selectadisc summary notes, like those of Rough Trade, are were a thing of wonder). Soundscape noise nevertheless beloved of Kerrang! Loud, thrashy and rather glorious.

St Etienne -- ah.... Sarah Cracknell and co. For boys (and frankly girls too) of a certain generation, St Etienne were the 'pop' act it was cool to like. And hawt dang if the lovely Sarah C isn't still as gorgeous as ever! With the audience in her hand, the divine SC and Debsey Wykes on backing vocals (I think it's her!)with masterminds Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs kept us enchanted with both new and old songs. There was quite a crowd of very happy men going home that night at the flirty sight of her still strutting in her feather boa and tight fitted jacket.

St Etienne&crowd ss2009
Sarah Cracknell SS2009
Frank Turner -- quite a contrast, but Frank Turner nicely rounded off Saturday with his Eton-boy turned Billy Bragg-esque social and personal commentary songs. The Rising Stage was packed out for this and I have to admit being surprised how well loved FT was with a mostly young crowd. Funny and sharp and left-ish inclined this cure as hell beat seeing The Charlatans drag out another faux Stolen Rones performance on the main stage.

As Mr Hudson (now minus the Library he had when he last appeared at Summer Sundae) was failing to get beyond the soundcheck (25 mins into his set-time) we exited the festival and headed home once more.

BM there were other Summer Sundae 2009 treats (Friday)

Before Monotonix blew us away, there had been many other treats at Summer Sundae 2009 not least of which was the arrival of George coming all the way from Aberdeen (via Barnsley) to join us for much of the festival. Some of the musical treats will get their own posts (Múm for Friday for sure!), but here are the other delights and observations that we took in at Summer Sundae on the first day.

Friday 14 August 2009

Echolocation -- a local band by force of where they live but not where they come from: very amusing, with a wry engagement with the audience. Kinda inspired by the likes of The Fall with a poetic social commentary style of delivery.

Blk Jks -- from Johannesburg. Should have been interesting but essentially guitar rock played by 4 black South Africans. Okay, but nothing revolutionary.

Kid British -- caught a bit as background but good stuff.

My Latest Novel -- better, certainly the most enjoyable act of the Friday to that point with some grand harmonies.

Oi Va Voi -- although we really only saw them from the vantage of the real ale tent, these were very entertaining with a folksy, East European feel to their music. Especially liked the hot young women* playing fiddle and singing.

Gold Panda -- a late and quite frankly awful repleacement for the withdrawal of Fanfarlo. Boy in gold hoodie** spinning 'discs': yawn. This was the swine flu absence I was bothered about.

Ash Grunwald -- Australian with a spikey sense of humour (is that always the case?!) and some very neat guitar grooves

Beardyman -- Moved up to the main stage from the Indoor stage due to the reshuffle caused by The Streets late withdrawal (again thanks to Swine Flu). Hilariously, many of the posters around the site announcing 'Unfortunately, The Streets have had to cancel...' were quickly defaced to read 'Fortunately...'. I really wasn't fussed either way frankly.

Anyway! If you're going to be a boy spinning discs, then at least be interesting about it. Beardyman, with his human beatbox tendencies, sharp choice in music selections and crowd-winning engagement with his audience managed far better than the panda. Lesson noted I hope.

Wild Beasts -- they were okay... maybe they just sounded more interesting on the radio (I'm sure their session performances promised better than this)

Dan Black -- mystifyingly popular with teenage girls, and with a few tracks I did recognise from 6Music***. Entertaining enough but man, stop with 'da moves' and tuck your bloody t-shirt in!

Mystery Jets -- last year's late no-shows (though this was utterly forgiveable as lovely Blaine Harrison was seriously poorly in hospital) so eagerly anticipated by me. Although it was a very sweet and enjoyable set, I really was only there for one song and additionally was hyper aware we all wanted to get good positional slots for seeing Múm over in the now more distantly located Rising Stage.****

Anyway, since the Mystery Jets peformed 'Half In Love With Elizabeth' as their second track, it was pretty inevitable that the one I really wanted would come near the end. Nevertheless, when Two Doors Down did strike up I couldn't help but giggle inside and it was nice to hear it live at last.

Altogether now:
I think I'm in love with the girl next door, it's driving me crazy can't take it any more
I hear her playing the drums late at night, the neighbours complain but that's the kinda girl I like

And after that frothiness, it was off for Icelandic loveliness and electronic sound and stringscapes courtesy of Múm!

* We will gloss over that we heard some photographers discussing their pics so far and one considering whether the lead girl from Oi Va Voi was a Monet ("looks good from a distance")

** Neil was disappointed Gold Panda wasn't wearing a Panda suit.

*** The bastards at 6Music DIDN'T bother sponsoring the Summer Sundae festival this year.

**** Previously the Rising Stage was a smaller tent located just outside the De Montford Hall indoor stage. This meant that the distance between all four main stages was negligable, a matter of about 1 minutes walk. To allow for a much bigger Rising Stage and slightly larger festival site, this year saw Rising relocated to behind the War memorial. Still, it's only a five minute walk which makes tramping the Glasto fields seem like a marathon distance between stages!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Sundae - the Monotonix experience Sunday 16 Aug 2009

I think we can safely say that the Summer Sundae experience splits into three distinct parts:
BM - Before Monotonix
M - Monotonix
AM - After Monotonix

Seriously, as Tweeter JmsDmnd said "Monotonix have ruined me for every other band. My gig-going bottom has been truly violated by the massive dong that is Monotonix."

We'd really only gone in thinking it 'may be interesting' - in hindsight we should have taken more notice of the festival booklet praise of their "gloriously untethered live performances".

To give it some context, BM we had been watching Woodpigeon the Canadian ensemble, quite possibly some of the mildest mannered performers you could imagine. They were lovely, with the sweet and subversive main singer Mark Hamilton dressed in white and the sweet and tiny Foon Yap on violin next to him.

(Here's a video of them doing their gorgeous cover of Abba's 'Lay all your love on me' -- at Summer Sundae they were joined by Beth Jeans Houghton for this, complete with that big blonde head of hers!)

Anyway, at the time it was merely amusing when Woodpigeon announced they had flown in from a gig in Sweden with Monotonix: "but we didn't dare say hello to them" so they dedicated a song to them.

Hmm, once we'd seen Monotonix that nervousness made sense!*

Needless to say, this must have been a security and health and safety nightmare. Keep in mind that usually there is the band on stage (raised above the audience), then the gap between stage and barrier where security stand, facing out to the audience to keep an eye that they don't misbehave, crowd-surf, throw anything etc. The audience are firmly on the other side of the barrier facing the band on stage.

Not at a Monotonix gig: the drum kit was set up on the auditorium floor. As the music started - did I mention they were wearing wrestling trunks?! - two more figures appeared on stage. Again, only dressed in wrestling trunks. And then jumped from the stage over the gap and clambered their way into the crowd.

I was wide-eyed in excitement but I have to admit that when vocalist Levi "Ha Haziz" (Yomtov) Elvis was clambering over the audience and he beckoned me to step forward so he could climb over me I froze. Another occasion I would be prepared!
Update: (As proof we were there, here is a picture link. We're in the region of the singer's legs!)
Anyway, you can imagine the poor security staff - bewildered, confused what their role was in this strange new world where the band were in the auditorium, the band were doing the crowd-surfing and the band were throwing water and beer and themselves around! The drum-kit was used as a stand, a bin was used to carry the singer, loads of people co-participated, and everyone was deliriously with the thrill of it all.

There were random chants led by the band ("it's been" "a" "hard" "day's night" and "Ringo!" were amongst the one's I recall!) and lots of movement.

Update: and here's the proof!

They must have covered most of the large auditorium and then, perhaps inevitably, they ascended to the balcony area. I think this was the point at which most of the security staff lost it: I really giggled at reading katediamond's Tweet "Overheard @ #summersundae. Lad to security guard: "Were you at Monotonix? You were shitting yourself! Haha!" - genius!". Oh absolutely. In fact, when we were talking to some of the Merchandising tent staff later they were saying they had been listening in to the channel and it basically consisted of "he's gonna jump! he's gonna jump off the balcony! He fucking jumped!!!"

Video clip - balcony jump

Video clip - Different view of balcony jump

Video clip - floor show with audience member

Video clip - Singer on drumkit being held aloft by audience

For a longer flavour of the Monotonix experience at Summer Sundae 2009, here is an extended video clip!

Of course, by the end -- and it took a long time to end! - lots of the Summer Sundae staff were on the stage watching in awe/fury. Thankfully, not being on the stage did at least mean that the next band could do most of their set-up and soundcheck whilst Monotonix were still at it.

In the end, AM, lovely little Micachu and the Shapes only started about 8 minutes later than scheduled. A remarkable achievement! Even they had to acknowledge what had happened in the space before them, saying "did you see Monotonix? Where do we begin!?" Tellingly, even the George was suitably gob-smacked and I think that counts as a first!

Anyway, this pretty much shaped the whole day so everything else from Sunday at Summer Sundae 2009 is getting a separate post!

* indeed, after the shock of Monotonix, I saw the singer from Woodpigeon and went to give my thanks to him.
"I now understand though why you were scared to talk to Monotonix on the plane!" I said. "They were sat right amongst us!" he replied "We're never opening for them again" he added, deadpan. Awh, bless.

Posts to come: photo post 1 from London, plus lots of Summer Sundae reviews - and posters

Sorry to keep you hanging on, but I need to upload the photos from Neil's camera.

Still, there should be:

The final London photo post (number 1!)
Summer Saundae reviews and photos for Mum, David Thomas Broughton and Monotonix, plus the rest of the festival highlights -- Broken Records, Bon Iver, First Aid Kit, and lots lots more!

Visit to London Summer 2009 - the photo post 2

Reverse appearance of posts (apologies for that) but here are some more lovely pictures from our recent London trip July 30-August 4.

List of posts about the trip:
  • 30-31 July - including a musical concert and much walking around London
  • 1 August - including exhibitions and lots of drinking
  • 2 August - including Spitalfields market and 'Helen' at the Globe Theatre
  • 3 August - including 'Time and the Conways' at the National Theatre
  • 4 August - including Waterhouse exhibition and 'Once Upon a Time in the West'

outside Spitalfields market near Hawksmoor's Christ Church
Me outside Spitalfields market near Hawksmoor's Christ Church.

Architectural developments in the area around Liverpool Street Station
Architectural developments in the area around Liverpool Street Station.

At British Museum
Hard to believe I know, but this shot of us was taken outside the British Museum. And here's the proof that behind the foliage and Neil was the facade of the British Museum!

At British Museum
See what I mean?!

Beach artists on the Thames, South Bank, London
Watching the beach artists creating wonderful pictures and items was great fun: flowers, even a pair of dogs were created from the sand as the Thames tide was out.

View from Oxo Tower, South Bank
Amongst the many things we did that were new on this trip, one was to go up the Oxo Tower. This may be a public right of way but it's hardly that well known. But on a sunny summery evening the view is well worth the trip.

Fortnum and Mason stairwell
Fortnum and Mason's round stairwell is a beauteous thing to behold.

A Medicare Rant -- not mine, but brilliantly ranty!

PortlyDyke over at Shakespeare's Sister has given a priceless rant on the topic of the US Medicare system.

It opens with the best defense ever of having a rant:
This is a rant. This is only a rant. For the next few minutes, you will be experiencing a rant. If this were an actual political-action item, the rant you are about to read would be followed by official information, news, or instructions.
Pure Awesome.

The three key events of Summer Sundae 2009

There will be a fuller review - with pictures should I be able to prise them from Cloud's camera! - but suffice to say that Múm on Friday were an ethereal highlight, David Thomas Broughton then looked to be the lunatic soundscape highlight of the festival, but ultimately the utter delirium that was Monotonix threw us all into shock.

As the t-shirt says "where were you when it happened": a Houston newspaper described their live experience thus:
If there was a spectrum on which every shade of chaos was ranked hierarchically, you would have to peg a Monotonix show somewhere to the left of total, complete and utter mayhem.
That would be about the size of it!

More, MUCH more on the whole Summer Sundae experience later!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brief note on Summer Sundae 2009

George is here!

And we saw Múm last night! More when we do our full report!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Visit to London Summer 2009 - the photo post 3

London's butterflies, parks, Lisa and Neil posing, and architectural improvements and demolitions! (Apologies that these posts are going up out of order... I will sort that!)

A beautiful butterfly in London's fair parkland.

Lisa posed alongside the Serpentine on a lovely summer's day.

As it was summer we made our pilgrimage to experience the Serpentine Gallery's pavilion installation.

Lisa and Neil in close-up reflection at the Serpentine Pavailion!

A sunny day walking past the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall.

Neil just could not resist having a go in the art installation (aka kids get wet for fun event) 'Appearing Rooms', installed at the Hayward Gallery again because it is such an irresistible delight.

The great Savoy Hotel on the Strand is being cleaned up and by the look of things, this is going to be a glorious restoration to its true beauty!

Regent Palace Hotel at Piccadilly being demolished (but with some elements left intact!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thrilling! the Fourth Plinth as it should be

Am so sorry I missed seeing this live, but well done Krypto for his Thriller moves! Great to see the "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" campaign getting such a high profile!

There's a video link (at the moment) to the One and Other website.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Theatre Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Nottingham Theatre Royal Monday 10 August 2009)

Bless him, Nick Briggs is a bit of a card isn't he?

Last night, H arranged tickets for me and Neil to see the first production in the new Crime Thrillers series at Nottingham Theatre Royal. Nottingham has been hosting this summer season for 21 years now - with Colin McIntyre at the helm (a man who has been in the industry so long there isn't anyone he doesn't know from theatre). Briggs had a barn-storming success in 2008 at Nottingham playing Holmes in 'Holmes and the Ripper' by Brian Clemens (according to the final conversations in an interview with Briggs Big Finish look set to release 'Holmes and the Ripper' at some point seems).

So this year we got Briggs back again as Holmes -- but in a somewhat different performance.

Having taken over writing the play from Colin McIntyre, Briggs provides an archetypal piece of his wry humour that retains much of the original story but gamely acknowledges the limitations of both the setting and the nature of the story. After all, it is actually a rather Holmes-lite tale -- with Holmes seemingly outside much of the narrative whilst Watson 'guards' the American inheritor of Baskerville.

This does not hold back this adaptation which therefore adopts the idea of Watson restaging events for Holmes - and explicitly for the theatre audience's - amusement.

It may sound like "Holmes: the postmodern panto version", with the appropriate amount of charcuterie, but in practice this was just jolly good fun. There was a lovely amount of admiration for the delightful environment of Nottingham's Theatre Royal (reinforced by Brigg's on stage post-performance thank you to the audience and all the staff).

There were plenty of gags about the smoke machine, the cast including two stage hands who would wander on to move the furniture a few feet for new scenes and the revelation of the Hugo Baskerville family portrait was hilariously portrayed. However, I do think my favourite moment was when three characters take a train journey and this is visualised by them sitting on three chairs with the actors kind of 'bouncing' on the chairs to give the impression of bouncing along the train track.

The dread of how the hound itself could possibly be staged was a neat recurring joke and was beautifully done in the end to tie up both the Conan Doyle narrative and the 'staging' of the narrative for our benefit.

The evening ended with Elvis's "Hound Dog" (and Briggs leading the cast curtain call with arm and hip-wiggling boogie) which just seemed totally apt to the bonkers fun of the occasion. Not for the Holmes purists, but definitely a delightful ham-sandwich's worth of entertainment.

If you're in the area, it runs til Saturday and is well worth a visit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Visit to London: 4th August 2009 - including Waterhouse exhibition and a film

Our little legs and feet were pretty much dead by this point so walking needed to be kept to a minimum today. After checking out - but leaving our bags at reception - we headed for breakfast (a busy morning so it was down to Bruno's basement for us!) before wandering towards the Royal Academy.

I was keen to see the JW Waterhouse exhibition: I've long loved The Lady of Shallot (Tate Gallery) and though easy on the eye I coulnd't pass up the chance to see the images up close.

Sadly, Andrew 'Bastard' Lloyd Webber didn't deign to lend my very favourite Ophelia (which I have sadly never seen in the flesh). I have to confess this did rather taint my enjoyment of the show, but nevertheless the pictures are beautiful.

We then mooched over the South Bank and grabbed a seat in the snazzy back bar of the NFT (sorry, I must remember that it is no longer the National Film Theatre, but instead BFI Southbank: shame on me).

We then people watched the ad and film execs in the bar before we then settled in for the 2:10pm screening of Once Upon a Time in the West. The Greatest Western Ever Made. Fact.

This is such a favourite film of ours, we could not pass up the chance to see it on a big screen with a proper sound system.

And yes, I sobbed lots of tears every time Jill's Theme was played - quite possibly one of the most heart-tugging pieces of music in film. In its original version (and please don't force me to listen to inferior later recorded versions), this is just magnificent - that swoop over the rooftops from the station vividly called to mind whenever I hear it. In fact, the music for this is near perfect. And a spectacular film to match.

After that we hopped the tubes back to Store Street to end our trip as we began with a fine meal at Ristorante Olivelli Paradiso. Then it was off to collect our bags and trudge to St Pancras for the train home. Just enough time to collect some gifts and then home, home home.


Visit to London: Monday 3 August 2009 including Time and the Conways, National Theatre

Monday arrives, and only two(ish) days left in the capital.

I'd foolishly not recharged my phone so was unable to send the texts I usually use of record of what we get up to so this is a more improvised review of the day's events!

After breakfast at... well, you know the drill... it was off toward the National. Taking a diversionary route we spotted a poster at the Canadian High Commission on Trafalgar Square and nipped in through the security to see an exhibition of Arctic photography: The Accessible Arctic. This was very beautiful and gave a nice chance to browse the ground floor of the 'embassy' with its fancy chandeliers and stairwells.

We then mooched through the Square, pausing to view a bikini-clad, feather dressed woman promoting bingo on the plinth. We then nipped into the National Portrait Gallery to see some rather wonderful 1960s photographs of Mr Bob Dylan looking exceptionally cool.

We then proceeded to have a wander through the area around Jermyn Street, looking in the fancy tailoring stores. Very snazzy!

As the day progressed, we further meandered towards the South Bank planning to get late tickets for Time and the Conways at the Lyttleton, National Theatre: we were even hoping to attend with lovely Poly Gianniba; however, this was thwarted with delayed receipt of a text from her. Another time we hope.

We headed for a repeat visit to Leon for tea - this time having the Sweet Potato curry for me - before ultimately grabbing two top price stalls tickets for Time and the Conways just £16 each. Bargain!

We then slotted in a quick visit to the viewing platform at the Oxo Tower giving us great views over the river (and gatecrashing a party, but then it is free access and a public right of way - thank you Red Pepper mag for alerting us to this!). We also skidded down to the Globe again so I could pick up a copy of the playscript for Helen (sadly no repeat encounter with Kathy).

The play, again, like Helen, has had mixed reviews. Perhaps it was because I had so enjoyed Rupert Goold's direction of the magnificent 'Last Days of Judas Iscariot', I was less disconcerted than some at the technical bravado that Goold injects into the production. Yes, the play is what it is: a three act 1930s piece of Priestley with all the arch manners one might expect of such a play But rather than seeing what Goold adds as unnecessary distractions -- two old dears in front of us were most put out -- we experienced them as vibrant visual encapsulations of the themes of the play. Time and simultaneity are given physical form and for me the key to why Goold plays the ends of his acts in this way is captured in the way he - quite literally - frames the opening scene of Act One. (I don't want to spoil too much as the production still has a little time to run but if I describe it as a widescreen cinematic experience you will understand what I mean when you see it).

The performances were lovely and the set managed to convey the changing financial status of the family very well. Of the actors, I especially liked Paul Ready as poor hapless Alan, the eldest son who is possibly the wisest of all the family, but everyone captures their class prejudices, maliciousness, carelessness and so forth with great clarity.

And as a second celebrity spot of the weekend, Barry Cryer was sat a couple of rows in front of us and held the door open as we exited behind him.

We had a drink in the bar and then retired, ready for our final day in London.

Visit to London: Sunday 2nd August 2009 including Helen at the Globe

If it's Sunday, it must be Spitalfields day!

We're up and out for the tube to Liverpool Street in good time, exiting via the side exit past the refugee statues before heading down to blow rasperberries at the RBS headquarters on the corner of Brushfield Street. We dive straight into the S&M cafe for breakfast and once full of breakkie we head into Spitalfield market.

As my poor Paperchase plastic multi-coloured stripey handbag was now losing its coloured plastic at a rapid rate, I had decided that I really must replace this bag so keeping my eye out for something unusual we scoured the stalls. I finally found a very fetching leather handbag made from recycled leather pieces and decorated with mult-patterned African fabrics (mostly on the inside but with some strips of colour on the outside too). Since it was capacious enough to accommodate my exisiting stripey handbag I thought this would work in terms of size!

We further rummaged amongst the goodies of the market, even picking up a few CDs there:

  • Voodoo Drums
  • AS Mercenarias (Brasilian post-punk 1982-88)
  • In the Mind of Nitin Sawney [this was mostly because they were playing this CD and I was just captivated by the tracks we heard]

We then proceeded to meander further through the astonishingly muffled sound streets around Hawksmoor's Christ Church before doing our pilgrimage to Rough Trade. After several abortive attempts to locate certain albums (and my ability to forget the band is called A Hawk and a Hacksaw, so they were stored under 'A' not 'H' - doh!) we had to finally stop ourselves as the pile grew ever higher!

  • 17 Hippies: El Dorado
  • A Hawk and A Hacksaw: Delivrance
  • Thee Headcoats and thee Headcoatees [aka Wild Billy Childish]: Live at the Western Rooms
  • Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire: Punk Rock at the British Legion Hall
  • Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
  • Marvellous Boy: Calypso from West Africa
  • The Mummers: Tale to Tell
  • Red Light Company: Fine Fascination
  • Regina Spektor: Far
  • Richard Swift: The Atlantic Ocean

We loitered briefly in the old Truman Brewery Headquarters, admiring the Eagle figurehead, and then wandered along through the more dog-eared ends of the market areas, past street vendors selling their finds but also very fine food stalls with every large bowl of fruit/veg for a £1. If we lived there we'd have been buying up the scrummy looking goodies for our cooking for sure.

We then proceeded to head back to the hotel to drop off our purchases before heading back out again. We ended up going for the delights of fast food at
Leon - something Neil has been nagging me to do for some time. Though I must admit it was only when I was nosing in the excellent cooking and recipe book they had on sale that I clicked why Neil was so fond of Allegra McEvedy's recipes in the Guardian: tis she who co-founded Leon to provide healthy quality fast food. Anyway, Neil had Moroccan Meatballs with rice and salad whilst I had Sweet Potato falafal with Aioli, rice and salad. This was a lovely sunny evening meal and quite set us up for the evening at the Shakespeare's Globe.

Yes, finally we were going inside for a play, after our tour last time around. Okay, so it wasn't a Shakespeare play (we must get back there for one of those), but it was starring lovely Penny Downie and Paul McGann. This was
Helen by Euripides, by way of Frank McGuinness and based on Fionnuala Murphy's literal translation.

Reviews have been at best variable for this production: which feels a shame because we really enjoyed it (even if I did get the play's length thoroughly muddled and confused that this was 3 hours long... what WAS I thinking?!) The 90 minute production was lively and full of verve and vigour - Downie really gives it her all and I wanted her gold dress sooooo badly it almost hurt. It was witty, disruptive and ultimately a joyful experience, albeit with the disturbing undertone that the Trojan wars had been for nothing: is the ghost created by Hera the classical equivalent to the clones that litter science fiction texts? I really enjoyed the light touch and humour in the production - the relationship between hapless Angels Castor and Pollux was especially entertaining - and the sheer physicality of the production: Downie totally throws herself into the production, climbing and hanging from heights that show off her dramatic and lithe sense of rhythm and movement. McGann was compelling as the shipwrecked and baffled Menalaus and captured the strain of re-starting his relationship with Helen in a new light. And I even found the counter-tenor that Billington so disliked rather apt: a chorus of dramatic if distanced observation on the action.

Anyway, for us at least it was a great experience. Okay, so there was the (minor) distraction of one woman a short distance from us (thankfully enough distance for us to not suffer) who passed out and then barfed profusely - leading to a frantic disinfection of the location by the Globe staff. But otherwise it was excellent - and yes, the cushions, and indeed the wooden back rests, were wonderful for making it comfortable.

There was one small additional frisson to the evening: as I waited for Neil to go and take our seats I spotted a woman wearing large dark sunglasses dressed in black. A couple of quick sliding looks later and I was convinced: yes, it was
Kathy Burke who now focuses on work behind the stage rather than on it or in front of the camera. Stood with my back to her I managed to waylay Neil's return and alert him to her much to his giddy "ooh, it is!" delight. We could see her on the middle gallery at the end of row from our seats on the Upper Gallery. When we exited she was having a good laugh and a drink with two male companions, and although Neil hesitated he didn't bit the bullet to go over and declare his undying affection for the lovely Kathy. (It would have gone somewhat against my ethics of approaching people since she was clearly 'off-duty' on a night out with friends - but then again it was Kathy and Neil does rather adore her. Still, I did offer to be the butt of the occasion and do the approach and Neil still declined. So we left it at that with the general frisson of pleasure that the evening had given).

Still buzzing from our evening we subsequently went for another walk - having grabbed our jackets from the hotel - and ended up having a bite and a drink in
Bar Italia in Soho (not worthwhile for the prices but definitely for the Pulp connection and because it was quiet enough to grab a seat).

Another day over!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Visit to London: Saturday 1 August 2009

Saturday was forecast to be the worst of our days for our London trip weatherwise. Still, this was of limited concern as we were scheduled to be ensconced in a pub for a goodly part of the day. The weather on waking up was certainly still balmy, so again it was summery clothes -- even those thin long sleeve tops didn't get an airing during this vacation!

Breakfast at Bar Bruno again - with added Bubble and Squeak (how did I not have that before!?) - and then as I had had some shoulder and calf pain/cramps, we headed towards Oxford Street. Of course, we got diverted by the discovery that Sister Ray records were still going, so we dashed in there and purchased:

  • The Duckworth Lewis Method
  • Madness: The Liberty of Norton Folgate (a location we passed the following day!)
  • Einsturzende Neubauten: Ende Neu
  • God Help the Girl
We then mooched on to Oxford Street and into faithful old John Lewis, since tacky 'sportwear' shops wouldn't know about actual sports and exercise equipment if it bit them on the bum. Furnished with a remarkable Omniball and more, I felt better already.

After that - and the sight of a gravity defying (natural) cleavage making both us pop our eyes as the woman passed us - we wandered into the Photographer's Gallery in its new temporary home at Ramillies Street. We delighted in the exhibition 'On Reading' by Andre Kertesz, especially because the Guardian review had reminded me that it included an image of Peggy Guggenheim. We had a sit down and a drink, with Neil picking up the latest edition of Smoke. We then headed back to the hotel, dropped off our purchases and then headed back towards Trafalgar Square.

Ahead of meeting a friend for beers, we finally managed to visit the Political Cartoon Gallery on Store Street. Despite passing this many many times, this little venue has always been shut or on vacation when we have passed it so we took our chance and paid our pound to see the excellent work of Dave Brown. Rogues Gallery shows Brown's 'misused masterpieces' first published in The Independent, adapting old master paintings for political cartooning end. Not only are images visually stunning but they are also very funny.

We then nipped in for the BP Portrait awards at the NPG. We've got into a habit of seeing this show and there are always at least a couple of images that are really striking. This year we were especially captivated by a painting of a girl in a stripey jumper (how could we not like that!) -- 'Imagine' by José Luis Corella. We were also taken with 'Hats and Scarves' by Tim Okamura whose layered paintwork isn't done justice by a small reproduction and whose lively painterly style was striking in such a large work. I also like the prize winning work by Peter Monkman, a rather ethereal image of his daughter ('Changeling 2').

Full of culture, we headed to the always delightful Chandos but finding our friend delayed we temporarily exited for a stroll around the area including an exhibition/sales space selling fashion and art/design magazines. We also had a nosey at the Cecil Court print stalls. However, as the rain restarted we headed back to the pub and sat ourselves down for the afternoon.

With toastie and chips to keep the hunger monsters at bay we passed the remaining waiting time musing on trying to name the Ivy League Universities of the USA and the 'Seven Sisters'. Confusingly I now realise there are eight Ivy League universities so who was missing a sister?! Anyway, drinks and film discussion chatter ensued once our friend arrived and we then made a quick dash through torrential rain up to The Salisbury on St Martin's Lane (the wettest we got all weekend!), working our way through the posher theatre-goers to finally get a seat. We then made our way to Cambridge Circus - to, funnily, The Cambridge - where debates and identification of long forgotten films continued (I finally remembered - without recourse to IMDB - that the colloquially known 'Lust in the Dust' starred Jennifer Jones and was actually called Duel in the Sun).

Requiring some serious beer soakage material we headed for food at the lovely Ristorante Cappucchetto just off Cambridge Circus. We had delicious pasta - with gnocchi alongside - and we were wonderfully filled with food and wine. Excellent.

Against better judgement a final round was decided upon and we headed to the Whitehall Weatherspoons pub with a moon in its name. Yes, we were a bit drunk by this time. Still, with a copy of the latest Observer in hand -- oh sob, can they really be thinking of getting rid of this wonderful paper?! -- we enjoyed a sobering walk back through Trafalgar Square, past yet more random people on the plinth and back to the hotel.

End of day three!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Visit to London 30 July - 4 August 2009: opening days

Nearly 6 days in London to report on, so lots to get through!

Neil and I travelled down to London on Thursday 30th July straight from work. So the first challenge was getting out of work on time-ish. This was interesting to achieve for me as I had meetings from 9am straight through til 4pm when I had to aim to get room bookings into the system for the new academic year. I finished my task with 4 mins to spare before rushing for the bus.

As is our usual activity on arrival in London (once we've topped up our Oyster Cards), we headed straight for our favourite eating place Ristorante Olivelli Paradiso on Store Street. There is always at least one member of staff working on any shift that recognises us and we always get a nice welcome. The food is never less than excellent and wonderfully good value. After eating our fill - delicious fresh sardines followed by salad and risotto with leeks and asparagus for me - and having a nice bottle of white wine, we went for a stroll down to Trafalgar Square to watch the random plinth inhabitants at One & Other, Anthony Gormley's collaborative and community artwork for the Fourth Plinth. It was a fairly pleasant night in terms of weather so it was lovely to walk around.

Friday morning and we've already identified quite a bit of potential activity for the weekend withour copy of Time Out. As is traditional, breakfast on every day except Sunday is at Bar Bruno on Wardour Street. Friendly with good value food, their breakfasts are wonderful and I always feel I have truly arrived back in London once I have eaten at Store Street and here. It has a really honest atmosphere: there is no pretension or show. Everything about it is approachable and delicious. Eggs, bacon and tomatoes with toast for me, with a mug of tea of course. I feel better already.

We set off after breakfast toward Cambridge Circus as I'm keen to get hold of the 2nd edition of Volume 3 of About Time, the Mad Norwegian Press books on Doctor Who. These hilarious volumes have provided many happy hours of reading to me, but the Pertwee years volume 3 had been unavailable for quite a while. Now the 2nd edition has finally come out I'm looking forward to reading this afresh as its been rewritten with plenty of asides about the new series in the footnotes.

Still, en route to Forbidden Planet, we did a nice little re-route via the Denmark Street area. This involves us finally going into St Giles in the Fields. This has some very impressive memorials inside it and has been beautifully restored: we also picked up the wonderful memorial service address done for the previous Rector Gordon Taylor which is well worth reading as it gives a sense of how hard he worked for the church and its restoration. The visit to the Denmark Street area also included Neil lusting after a banjo in the music shop windows. Yes, not content with not playing his bongos he now wants to be not playing a banjo (am teasing, but he - and I truly - need to find our musical mojo before buying more instruments!) Ah well!

After doing my science fiction girl geek thing, we headed into Covent Garden and the next inevitable stop-off at Tabio. This always makes me feel good and before the weekend was out I was wearing some of my new purchases! We then continued meandering through the streets til my eyes were seduced by some very fetching purple flock Doc Marten shoes. Oh yes. We then headed round and through to the London Transport Museum to pick up a few postcards of the lovely old transport posters. Deciding that breakfast had been very salty and lethal to health, we went for some raspberries for our lunch which we ate outside the lovely St Paul's Church: the actor's church. Helen Lisette has been badgering us for ages to go inside this unassuming building, but the delay paid off as it was truly wonderful to see all the memorials to the actors and other creatives of theatre and film and television. By now it was gloriously sunny and we were quite hot! We then went off to St Martins in the Fields for the lunchtime concert featuring a Russian pianist Mikhail Trusechkin playing short pieces by Scriabin, plus Prokofiev, and Liszt's Mephisto waltz. This was excellent and after wandering downstairs to see some beautiful illuminated bible illustrations in the basement of St Martins, it was still sunny when we came out. We sat in the sunshine watching a bear-suited man on the plinth whilst writing postcards. We then wandered to the South Bank, having fun watching the 'Appearing Rooms' fountain once again drawing out the kids and adults into getting soaking wet. We also enjoyed some ice-cream and watching the free performance art of 'Waiting on You' by Fullstop Acrobatic Theatre (involving dancers climbing and performing from a 50 foot hanging sheet). * UPDATE ADDED AT END

After dropping our bags back at the hotel, we came back to the South Bank and headed to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for one of the Trouble Tune Tonic events involving Charlie Dark and Keir Vine creating and performing improvised electronic, piano and spoken word works. This was very good and finally means we've seen something performed inside the Festival hall complex!

We then decided, foolishly, that what we fancied was a curry for tea so we headed to Brick Lane. We had a nice walk through Spitalfields and located a restaurant we had previously enjoyed. And indeed the meal was lovely. What was less so was our failure to factor in that it was Friday night (we usually dine there on a Sunday if we go!) so the place was heaving. So much so that as a new table's worth of girls came to sit at the adjacent table my lemonade was sent straight over me drenching my skirt, scarf (which was resting on my lap) and seat. Still, as I say the meal was great and since it was such a balmy night we were able to walk me dry pretty easily. We walked from Brick Lane, through the City (holding my scarf between us in the warm breeze), heading over the river towards the FT building and then on past the Tate, and past the queuing fans of Helen Mirren exiting from her performance in Phedre at the National Theatre. We also caught the end of the behind-the-screens production on the National Theatre Square of Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man? (it was a paying event so we only caught the fire and smoke and noise and general excitement). Still, Neil got a rather fetching T-shirt of Teatr Biuro Podròży (from Poland) which we wore over the weekend. We wish we had caught more of this stilts and motorbike event! We then wandered back across the bridge into the square before finally returning back to the hotel.

I think that was evening one and all of day two! [details updated 6 August]

Only just remembered but whilst loitering on the South Bank on Friday pm, we also hung out in the shop at the BFI Southbank. They were showing 'The Swimmer' on the screen in the shop and as it was with around 20 mins to go we stayed in the store and watched the end. It's a very odd film, bleak and utterly unexpected for a first-time watcher I think. The realisation that things are far from what they seem, and are the opposite of well, hit me like a bolt when I first saw this film many years ago on late night TV (remember when Moviedrome with Alex Cox gave sparky erudite intros to classy cult films?).

Neil's Normblog profile

Awh, bless, and we missed it going up because we were away in London for a long weekend.

But never mind, here at last is Neil's Normblog profile.