Saturday, 29 March 2014

slade in flame

On Friday 28th I finished watching Slade in Flame, which was actually pretty good; Mark Kermode thinks very highly of it as a film about the music industry.

call for the dead

ON Tuesday I finished Call For The Dead by John le Carre, which I thought was rather good. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is generally thought of as the 'first' Smiley novel - and of course it was the first serialised with Alec Guinness - but there were earlier ones. This is le Carre's first novel, and has George Smiley as the central character in a spy thriller/detective story. I liked it a lot; I had also liked The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, when I read it ages ago and which was also a relatively short book; I found Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a bit of a plod, when I read it a lot later, and when I trudged through The Honourable Schoolboy I resolved to read no further. But I think I will continue to look out the earlier ones on the strength of this one (which I picked up second hand in a nice old green Penguin crime edition).

Two quotes:

Smiley wanted to ask him how Fennan himself had felt, but Fennan was talking again. He had shared nothing with them [his fellow 1930s Oxford undergraduate Communists], he had come to realize that. They were not men, but children, who dreamed of freedom-fires, gipsy music, and one world tomorrow, who rode on white horses across the Bay of Biscay or with a child's pleasure bought beer for starving elves from Wales; children who had no power to resist the Eastern sun, and obediently turned their tousled heads towards it. They loved each other and believed they loved mankind, they fought each other and believed they fought the world.
- p70

'Was she a communist?'
'I don't think she liked labels. I think she wanted to help build one society which could live without conflict. Peace is a dirty word now, is't it? I think she wanted peace.'
'And Dieter?' asked Guillam.
'God knows what Dieter wanted. Honour, I think, and a socialist world.' Smiley shrugged. 'They dreamed of peace and freedom. Now they're murderers and spies.'
- p156

Monday, 24 March 2014

relatively speaking - wyndhams

On Saturday 18 May last year we - having a free evening courtesy of a Brownie sleepover - went to see Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Wyndhams Theatre, starring Felicity Kendal. We enjoyed it, but it was fairly lightweight, and something of a period piece. It was well-performed though. Felicity Kendal still good value, though she's not as young as she was.

Some reviews still knocking about on the first couple of pages of search results (the newspaper reviews seem to be from the week after we saw it, so the press night may have been just before we saw it, or just after; more ticket agencies and non-review theatre sites and fewer blog reviews coming up, perhaps to do with non-optimisation over longer-term of the latter). Telegraph (Interesting review as an article. Opening: 'Relatively Speaking was Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit, written when he was in his mid-twenties. That breakthrough production in 1967 starred Celia Johnson, Michael Hordern and the young Richard Briers, quite a bill for a West End debut, and Noël Coward generously sent a congratulatory telegram to the young author, congratulating him “on a beautifully constructed and very funny comedy”. That verdict still seems bang on the money though astonishingly this is the first time Relatively Speaking has been revived in the West End since its premiere. In his introduction to the script, Ayckbourn says he “consciously set out to write a ’well-made’ play”, believing that “you cannot begin to shatter theatrical convention or break golden rules” until you are “reasonably sure what they are and how they were arrived at”.'). Another from the Telegraph ('Things have reached a pretty pass. There is on the stage in Relatively Speaking a prop, intended to give the piece a period Sixties feel, the very like of which I still have in use in my own house.'). Guardian. The Stage. The Arts Desk. Evening Standard. Time Out. Spectator. Daily Express (doesn't get featured often in my round-ups). Huffington Post. Trip Advisor (never had them come up before either; fascinating; didn't know they included theatre reviews from people; seem to be 91, but the link seems to be for the theatre itself so the reviews can be of any production on there I think, or just for the theatre itself).


Through 2013 and so far in 2014 I've done quite a few engagements with the London Gallery Quire. They're mostly church services, mostly Sunday evening, mostly Anglican or URC; I think the only two concerts in that time have been the regular Christmas concert at St George's Alie Street, and a charity concert on Friday 15 March last year - just over a year ago - at St Paul's Belsize Park, with Belsize Community Choir, Friday 15 March. Sometimes I feel under-rehearsed and like I'm just about getting away with it, especially if neither of the two strong tenors are there, but I muddle through on the whole. My new laptop will run Sibelius Scorch software, which will play sheet music off the website, so that may help with future music learning.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

on the day I was born

On the day I was born:

- Celtic drew the second leg of their European Cup semi-final 0-0 away at Dukla Prague, winning 3-1 on aggregate, getting through to the final which they would win exactly one month later

- the Beatles started recording Magical Mystery Tour

I find these two facts very pleasing.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

the vikings

Parker examines the shift from piratical raids to full-blown invasions and settlement in Britain, France and Ireland up until 950. In fact, settling in all these areas did not prove that difficult. The Anglo-Saxons had grown complacent and lacked sea defences; England still comprised five different kingdoms; and the inhabitants soon took to appeasing the Viking warlords rather than confronting them. Were it not for the resolve of King Alfred of Wessex and his successors, the Vikings might well have made a lasting conquest of the whole of England.
As for France, there was no unifying figure capable of driving the Vikings back home. After the death of Emperor Charlemagne in 814, the country was plunged into fierce dynastic wars. For the Vikings this was a boon and, come the tenth century, a certain Rollo established his kingdom of Normandy, the 'land of the northern folk'. .... In Ireland, too the failure of the natives to unite in the face of a common enemy allowed the Vikings to dominate and establish major ports along the country's east coast, from where, among other things, slaves could be exported across the Viking world.
During this same period, Scandinavia was also undergoing significant changes. Warlords were becoming kings, with the result that realms developed with boundaries not too dissimilar from those that pertain today. Christian missions were also gaining much greater ground and, by the 11th century, Norway and Denmark resembled the rest of western Europe in their political and religious structures.
perhaps the most colourful story is that of the Viking voyages from the Baltic to Byzantium and further afield to trade in the Arab silver markets, which created an economic boom in Scandinavia. But once the silver supply dried up in the 970s, there was an economic crash that obliged embattled Scandinavian rulers to look elsewhere for income - towards England, where descendants of Viking settlers had become peaceful Christian farmers. This time there would be no petty piracy, just full-scale invasion, leading ultimately to King Cnut's creation in the 11th century of an Anglo-Scandinavian empire. King Ethelred's famously foolish policy of paying the invaders vast sums of money to go away simply guaranteed that they kept coming back for more.
- two extracts from a review by Martin Arnold of The Northmen's Fury, a book on Viking history by Philip Parker in March's Literary Review

'if you can't describe it, we can't play it'

He describes well the disconcerting impression of boredom that players can give when they are concentrating, and warns against attempting flowery evocations of a musical effect that is being sought ('if you can't describe it, we can't play it', he was once told).
- from a review by Michael Downes in the 7 March TLS of Inside Conducting, a book on conducting by Christopher Seaman

Friday, 14 March 2014

sir john soane museum; temple church

On Thursday 20 February - during half-term - I and the younger generation went to the Sir John Soane Museum and the Temple Church. It had been quite a few years since I'd been at Sir John Soane's; in fact, my compadre had been there more recently on a school trip, which was a courageous and aspirational choice for a Year 2 or 3 teacher, taking them there on the theme of light. A good place for it, certainly, but not a museum in which I'd be keen to be in charge of thirty young children. We had to queue a while to get it, but not too long, and we enjoyed our turn around it. I got the guidebook, and read it yesterday, but no reason to keep it having read it, I think; I find this more and more with things like that, and similarly with taking photos of places, that I know I can always find as much info or as many photos as I want anytime online. Until the great internet blackout, that is, after which civilisation will collapse.

We followed it by popping down to the Temple Church, which we got into free because they were about to close, and it was long enough. An impressive and interesting place; one of these London places which would be a major attraction in most places but is just another among London's many little treasures which are off the main tourist trail (even after The Da Vinci Code).

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

n or m?

On Saturday I finished N or M? by Agatha Christie. It wasn't very good, as I have found to be generally the case when I read one of hers which tries to be a spy adventure/thriller. It was also one of those where the characters spend a lot of time suspecting people and building theories in one direction so that you know they must be wrong (slightly different from the problem with Why Didn't They Ask Evans, which was one of those where the characters spend so much time coming up with all kinds of theories for so many different people that it all feels very pointless to bother reading it). And also, fairly unusually, there was a pointer in the middle of the book to who was a bad'un which seemed far too obvious, and then another.

The most interesting thing about it was to read a book published in 1941 and set at the time, with characters talking about the war as it was going on (which would have been read by people having similar conversations; not a historical novel). The most interesting detail in it is that where in a lot of detective novels before then there might have been a character who was suspicious because he was a Jew, this one had a character who was suspicious because he wasn't a Jew (being a German refugee).

The book gets a surprisingly detailed Wikipedia entry (with some surprisingly positive review quotes), where I learned two things. Firstly, 'The title is taken from a catechism in the Book of Common Prayer which asks, "What is your Christian name? Answer N. or M."' Secondly, that she was supposedly investigated because she called a character Major Bletchley (as in Bletchley Park); this was presumably picked up from the brief mention on the book's page on the official website or from this interesting Guardian article, which makes it sound plausible.

another tyndale commentary done

Last Thursday, in preparing for housegroup, I finished another IVP Tyndale commentary, this one by David W Baker on Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. It did the job.

The next thing we're going to study in housegroup is Matthew, so there's a very wide range of commentary options there. Considering breaking away from IVP Tyndale for a while; the Tyndale one is by RT France, who I've read before and is good, but he has done a more recent, bigger commentary in a different series, and there are also notable ones by Leon Morris (who I've also read before and is good) and Don Carson (who I've never read but is supposed to be good). Here are three interesting 'Matthew commentary recommendations' pages I came across on Challies (with further suggestions in comments), Patheos and Ligonier (all at the teaching/academic end rather than devotional/pew end, but that suits me fine).

the penultimate truth; bloomsbury hundred must-read fantasy novels

A week yesterday I finished The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick. It was okay, which is about as good as it has got with the Philip K Dicks I've read since my first, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which I did think was very good. I'm on the verge of giving up on him; maybe I'll try a short story collection of his; it can be hard to work out with these old hands which of their books are actually reckoned to be the best or classics, rather than just 'influential', 'important' or 'rediscovered/hidden gems'.

On that day I also finished reading my little Bloomsbury guide to 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels, which is a useful resource. I won't hold against it the fact that I've already given up on the only novel I had so far started on its advice, Gardens Of The Moon.

london gallery quire at st mary's wanstead

A week last Sunday evening (the 2nd) the London Gallery Quire sang at the evening service at St Mary's Wanstead. I think I've been there twice before with the LGQ (I'd probably never have been to Wanstead otherwise - I've been to some unfamiliar corners of London with the LGQ). The two strongest tenors weren't there, which I wasn't expecting, so I felt quite exposed, but we just about got away with it. I discovered last week that with our new laptop I could successfully download Sibelius Scorch, which I hadn't been able to do before, which is a programme which (perhaps among other things) lets you hear a simple electronic music version of a piece of sheet music, and which the LGQ repertoire on its website is set up for, so hopefully that will be a help for future music learning.

Monday, 10 March 2014

kelly grovier reviews martin creed retrospective at the hayward

Some extracts from a review in the Times Literary Supplement of 7 March 2014 by Kelly Grovier of a Martin Creed retrospective at the Hayward Gallery (full article here - I don't think the whole TLS is routinely on the website, my good luck that this one was, after reading it in my paper copy today):

'Such is the cramped creative terrain that unfolds in these incongruously ample spaces – a small territory of hackneyed stunts that proves what many have long feared: an art world in which anything goes, goes nowhere.'
'One hundred years after Marcel Duchamp introduced the insolent readymade, the fatigued arguments that the art world was once prepared to entertain in order to embrace shabbily executed work such as Carl Andre’s notorious row of bricks no longer resonate credibly. Neither shocking nor new, Creed’s creations are at best banal and borrowed. Where the avant-garde of earlier generations endeavoured to push courageously at the edges of conventional vision, this is an artist who delights instead in demeaning, rather than challenging, his viewers’ imaginations.
'Creed doesn’t make art but fools.'
'How does work this puerile smuggle itself past the seasoned discernment of educated curators and critics into prominence, earning the platform of a retrospective at a major public gallery? Desperate for anti-elitist displays, the regulators of our intellectual capital see in artists like Creed an engine of cultural quantitative easing. But by incautiously attempting to increase the popular base of gallery attendance by giving inane work the status of exceptional achievement, they put the economy of the eye at serious risk. Such indiscrimination floods the market with over-inflated phoneys and inevitably leads to an ever-declining yield in artistic appreciation.'
'And then there’s the fatuous language that promoting such adolescent and derivative work requires. The promotional material for What’s the Point of It? insists that the featured artist “has pursued an extraordinary path by confounding the traditional categories of art” and created “surprising meditations on existence and the invisible structures that shape our lives”. Try repeating those words to yourself with conviction as you stare at a stack of chairs (“Work No. 998”) or gaze philosophically into the arid spines of a row of ever-smaller cacti (“Work No. 629”). Ask yourself which of life’s mysterious foundations has been laid bare by the column of black Xs Creed has carelessly painted onto the wall of Room Five – a work that is glossed in the show’s accompanying brochure with the infantilizing explanation that “Creed likes crosses ‘because they are neither horizontal nor vertical, and because they are like kisses’”. While it may be true that your five-year-old is neither tall enough nor possesses a steady enough hand to execute this particular work, it is difficult to believe she could not produce as eloquent a defence of its merits.'
'it seems increasingly unfair to conclude that Creed has lost his sense of direction. He clearly never had one. There is no evidence of creative development or evolution of style, no reason to think that any given work was pregnant with the implications of the next. That’s because each object is a one-off gag.'

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

the tempest at the old vic (2003)

Further to the previous post, re last year's Tempest at the Globe with Roger Allam, I thought out of interest I'd search for reviews of the Old Vic production I saw with Derek Jacobi. It's from such a search that I see it was in 2003. Interesting that doing my usual review google on an event from eleven years ago doesn't kick up two virtually solid top pages of reviews, as usual, but more general ones about the actor or the play or the theatre or the director.

Let's see if any solid memories are prompted by any of these. Guardian ('enjoyable, without being particularly memorable'). Albemarle theatre archive page for production (some quotes). BBC London. British Theatre Guide. Telegraph. ('the global electronic Shakespeare conference', new to me). Independent. Kevin Quarmby (actor turned academic). A section on director Michael Grandage's site, who presumably has a section on each of his productions (substantial and admirably detailed, with a set of links to reviews including some of those listed here). Variety.

No, nothing. Surprisingly few production pics to help jog my memory too.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

the tempest at the globe

On Tuesday 7 May last year I saw The Tempest at The Globe, starring Roger Allam. I'm not a big fan of The Tempest as a play. I think it's one of those which if it wasn't by Shakespeare would rarely be performed. In fact it's considered to be one of his great late plays.

I think I've seen it twice, the time before with Derek Jacobi at the Old Vic. If it hadn't had Roger Allam in it (and probably also if it hadn't been at the Globe) I wouldn't have gone to see it again. I'd see Roger Allam in anything; he's great. He was, indeed, very good as Prospero. But it's one of these plays which veers wildly in tone, plot and subject matter; and far too much of the play is an unfunny comedy subplot.

(In fact I think the latest thinking is that The Tempest is a co-write, with the 'good bits' (Prospero's bits, mainly, I presume) written by Shakespeare and the less good bits written by someone else (which seems to be an increasingly common approach to a number of the plays, perhaps reflecting academic research on the extent to which plays of that time were co-writes, or perhaps reflecting the self-fulfilling prophecy approach to Shakespeare's genius, where if there's a good bit in someone else's play it was by him and a bad bit in his own then it was by his collaborator).)

At this distance I remember Miranda was pretty good, but the only others I remember are the luckless actors required to play the unfunny comedy rebels.

Let's see if the first couple of pages of reviews in a Google search jog my memory in any particular way. The first review up is Radio Times, bizarrely, which straight away reminds me that Ariel was played by Colin Morgan who played Merlin in the BBC TV series; I'd seen the actor playing Caliban previously, I think at the Globe, and he was good then, but this review reminds me that in this his accent seemed to be dangerously close to a caricature of a Caribbean accent, he had an apelike walk, and he was, I guess, supposed to be covered in mud and clay (rather than being 'browned up', which was an odd set of choices. The Globe page for the production. (makes an interesting point that in his view the play isn't about revenge but the father-daughter relationship). The Guardian makes a similar point, saying that in fact this is drawn out by Roger Allam's performance in this production; also reminds me of the long odd masque at the end (and my impression that Prospero was mouthing all the lines, creating it magically). Exeunt. Telegraph. The Week. Evening Standard (which tells me that the actress who played Miranda came second in I'd Do Anything, the 'play Nancy' reality tv competition). Rev Stan's blog (who went to see it only because Colin Morgan was in it). Daily Mail. What's On Stage. Financial Times. Daily Express. Quiet as Mouse blog (new to me, I think). London-reviews blog. The Stage. The Arts Desk. Time Out (I think they've slipped down the review search results since they stopped being a proper magazine - last on the second page). Broadly speaking, they mostly liked it more than I did.

(Another Google search does I think confirm that I did see Derek Jacobi as Prospero at the Old Vic; 2003 sounds plausible. Pretty sure I was there with Bethan, Daphne and Simon. Don't remember anything about it at all, except a distant figure which I presume was Derek Jacobi. Almost certainly was in the cheap seats in the Lilian Baylis Circle, which for a small theatre always feel very far away from the stage.)

douglas adams' fairies line

It has always puzzled me that this rather patronising line from Douglas Adams seems to be considered by some as a killer quote in relation to the question of the existence of God or anything beyond the material:

'Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?'

The obvious reply is surely, 'Indeed. But it might cause you to believe that there is a Gardener.'