Friday, 28 February 2014

morris folk club

On Tuesday I went to the Morris Folk Club. I took my guitar to a folk club for the first time. In fact it's the first time I've played the guitar outside my own house for over twenty years - possibly only once since I came to London, at an early church weekend away. I'd thought about taking it to Sharp's but never reached that point; I'd have needed to feel more confident; I've been playing the guitar more since joining the choir, both with the folk club in mind but also in the knowledge that the choir does use accompaniment so it may come in handy in that regard; it would be nice to play with others, as it would also be to sing with others too, and I think enabling combinations of performers is something Michelle hopes for in the folk club, as well as allowing individual performances and building confidence in general.

Although Sharp's was always very friendly and accepting of all performers, Morris folk club is more so, undoubtedly because it's mostly people from the choir who I've been getting to know, and you feel that many people are at the same place as you in terms of expertise and experience in performing and in 'folk knowledge'; very much among friends.

I did, with a little preamble including some of the above, Lady of the Sea, by Seth Lakeman, which went okay; everyone was as supportive as I'd have hoped for. Lady of the Sea is one I'd been learning myself over the last year or so; later I sang Sally Free and Easy (which I know from the Corries), which I've been playing on the guitar much longer (I had sung it unaccompanied at Sharp's before) but which I gave a bit more structure to when I decided I'd play it, and that went okay too. I muffed changes and strumming a few times but pressed on; also the tuning wasn't as great as I'd have liked it. I did have to re-tune up a bit before both, the first time while standing there, which I'd been afraid of but knew I'd have to do; if I'm going to do it again I'll need to invest in some kind of digital tuning aid which everyone seems to have these days. Indeed, Andy had a free app on his mobile (Andy had emailed a few folk from church about coming along, after I'd mentioned it to him, and Gabriel and James Savin also came along). Afterwards Gabriel looked with wonder at my capo; not that he'd never seen one before, but never one like that, it being, as Andy pointed out, a museum piece compared to elaborate modern capos. They weren't the only non-choir members at the folk club; I think Michelle said there were ten such.

It was our second Morris folk club held at our new venue, the Hysteria Bar on Kingsland Road, where we moved for rehearsals at the start of January. The first one was on Tuesday 28 January; in fact the next week we moved our rehearsals to St Barnabas church hall, not far away. We had been having the rehearsals downstairs at Hysteria, and it was a bit dark, low-ceilinged and musty; so wasn't ideal. The folk club we held on ground level, however, in a slightly wider space at the back beyond the long thin bar area, so it was separate but still part of the bar. (There had been talk of getting a curtain up in between us and the rest of the bar this time, but that didn't come to pass.)

We had made a conscious decision to scale up the folk club this year, and clarify the split between open rehearsal and folk club, and be more strict about not letting it turn into another rehearsal if no one else turned up. In fact the first time I went to Morris (last June, I think) was just such an occasion, when it was meant to be a folk club but they'd made it a rehearsal evening, but that was fine by me. The only actual folk club I made it along to last year was the one at the end of November, which was still mostly a rehearsal but several folk did sing at; I sang Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie, which went okay.

Having it in a public space at the back of the bar, rather than wherever our separate rehearsal space was, as at the two previous venues, certainly committed us to sticking to that scaling up. We also did a bit more promoting of it. We did get some new folk along to the one in January. At both the ones in January and February non-choir-members performed. In January I sang Cruel Brother (the Corries version - we're doing a version of Cruel Mother in the choir's childhood theme) and When She Loved Me (related to our childhood theme, but not really a childhood song - it's the Randy-Newman-written song from Toy Story 2 which Cowgirl Jessie sings about the girl whose toy she was, but out of that context it's a song of lost love).

Thursday, 27 February 2014

a taste for death

One of the books which I would pick up in preference to Gardens of the Moon was PD James' A Taste For Death, which I finished yesterday. I like her a lot, and I really enjoyed this one. It's well-written and well-constructed, of course, and it's of the procedural kind that I really prefer, all about the case and not the personal lives. Also of the kind where you are always kept pretty much up to speed with exactly what the detectives are thinking, rather than infuriating ones like Agatha Christie's detectives who are always making cryptic remarks and never giving anything away and then unveiling everything at the end, always leaving you with the sense that they could have given you half a dozen other alternative solutions to fit the vague clues scattered along the way. Always makes me think of the riddles in the game show 3-2-1, where the contestants had to choose out of all the rhyming clues the one which was the best prize - they all represented a prize or a booby prize, but could all be explained equally well to be the best or the worst prize, so there was really no way of knowing.

There aren't usually particular quotes to note from PD James books, but I did note this one, which I took as a possible self-reference, a description of a set of photos in a photographer's room (p241) of my 1989 Penguin paperback:
'The left of the board displayed what had probably been a more lucrative commission: a line of portraits of well-known writers. Some of the photographer's concern with social deprivation seemed to have infected even her work here. The men, unshaven, fashionably under-dressed in their tieless open-necked shirts, looked as if they had either just taken part in a literary discussion on Channel Four, or were on their way to a 1930s labour exchange, while the women looked either haunted or defensive, except for a buxom grandmother noted for her detective stories, who gazed mournfully at the camera as if deploring either the bloodiness of her craft or the size of her advance.'

I'm running out of PD James to read (and she's running out of time to write them). I'll be sorry when I'm done.

abandoning gardens of the moon

Today I abandoned Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. I'd renewed it a few times from the library but am still only half-way through it (around 300 pages into about 700, with at least eight further volumes, plus companion novels by the co-creator of the fantasy world), and I found that I wasn't keen to pick it up again, but was picking other books up instead. I'm sufficiently old now that if a book I'm reading for pleasure is turning into a chore, I'll stop it.

I was up for a new fantasy novel, and liked the sound of this from my Bloomsbury 100 must-read fantasy novels, but it's just going too slowly and not grabbing me. I don't think it's the thought of the eight further books to read after this one, because in the end I decided not even to finish this one - unlike, say the first Game of Thrones volume, which I did finish though I knew before the end I wouldn't be carrying on with them; well-written, but I didn't like the plots and the way I could see it was going. A similar feeling, then, except not as well-written. I don't think that I'm not prepared to commit to a whole series at my advanced age - certainly have been in the crime genre, for example. Maybe I just want something a bit more straightforward, and a bit lighter - in more than one sense: why do so many fantasy series have to be so heavy, both literally and metaphorically? A bit of humour and lightness of tone wouldn't go amiss, and the ability to convey a complicated world and plots without making them feel complicated (I'm not averse to complication per se).

Maybe, fantasy-wise, I'll pick something else up at the library, maybe I'll pick something off our own shelves next. Or maybe I'll just make further headway with Lord Of The Rings.

a bad joke

My friend only reads comics which feature Dennis the Menace. He's an Albeano.

- made this up yesterday (it's pretty simple; biggest decision whether to make it 'Albeano' or 'Allbeano'; many more options for the set-up line; doubtless hundreds have made it up before me, and hundreds will again). As I said to Anna in apologising for posting such an awful joke on Facebook, it just came to me and I couldn't help myself. I also tweeted it, and then found the Beano's twitter account and tweeted it directly to them, and I see today that they retweeted it. I couldn't be more pleased with myself.

Monday, 24 February 2014

the lego movie

On Saturday 22 February the younger generation and I went to a cheap morning showing of The Lego Movie at the Genesis cinema on Mile End Road (a new cinema to us, two short bus rides away, but we'll certainly be back, especially if they continue to include first-run films in their cheap Saturday morning showings).

The trailer had led me to hope it would be funny in a clever way, which it was, but it was also well-constructed (hah!) and thoughtful, with an interesting idea underpinning it. As I said in a comment in response to a blogpost, 'Ask most 40-something parents about Lego and they’ll say "Lego today is all kits with instructions; in my day you just had a tub of lego and used your imagination." I thought, rather strikingly, they were tackling that criticism head on in the film. Lord Business is what the Lego company has become, the rebels are the children using Lego as it was originally intended. Lego sales will go up, certainly, and children will be driven back to their lego – but making things, and stories, from their own imagination rather than just following the instructions on specific kits.' (The blogpost I was replying to was by Jennie Pollock, who also enjoyed the film but had a more spiritual take on the worldview/message of the film, which I can see how you could get, even if I didn't get it...)

Saturday, 22 February 2014

the tombs of atuan

On Tuesday, I finished The Tombs of Atuan, the second in Ursula K LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy (in my edition, though in a shop yesterday I saw a one-volume containing four books, so she obviously wrote a fourth since my edition).

It seems quite different from the first one, A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read (from that volume) several years ago and enjoyed. I enjoyed it more than this one; I liked this one okay, but if I'd read this one first I wouldn't have read another. I remember in particular thinking that it was very cleverly written; it felt like a book for adults but which seemed suitable for children in a way which you couldn't quite put your finger on until you realised it was the language used, which was completely child-friendly without being childish or talking down. I'm not sure if she wrote it as children's literature at all, in fact.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

four first gigs

A couple of Facebook posts by Donalda yesterday, of music she was listening to, made me think of the second and third of these, and the fourth came up recently in a conversation with my minister, Andy. So here are four first gigs.

a) The first gig I paid to go to: a couple of punk bands from Stornoway, at Bayble School hall. I have a feeling I was still in Bayble rather than in the Nicolson, because I'm pretty sure I didn't know any of the folk who had come down for it from town except by repute, though I may be misremembering, but if I was in the Nicolson it would have only been third year. Pretty sure Malcolm Smith was in one of them; pretty sure one of them was The Rong; another may have been Noise Annoys. I can't remember anything in particular about it - except that there weren't many people there, that there were people from the strange and exotic land of Stornoway there (including two girls standing right at the front who I would later learn were Kathryn Wood (not sure how that's spelt, but she was in my Latin class) and Anne Falconer - I don't know why that sticks in my mind) - or what I thought of it.

I remember going to a subsequent Stornoway punk band gig in Aird School, but literally all I remember about that is a mental picture of myself at the outside door, leaving very early, telling the grown-ups on the door that it was too loud, and them agreeing with me. Oh, the shame of it.

b) The first gig I went to by a band who were making a living from it: Runrig, in the Caberfeidh. I saw them two or three times when I was in school, I think always in the Caberfeidh. I saw them when Richard Cherns was their 'new' keyboard player; I don't remember if that was the first time.

In London I've seen them over the years at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, the Hammersmith Odeon (or whatever it was called at that point) and the Royal Albert Hall, though I haven't seen them recently. I remember thinking, I think at the Shepherd's Bush Empire but it would certainly have been true at those other two venues, that they were now playing on a stage that was bigger than the room I first saw them in. I mentioned that in my speech at my wedding, for some reason.

c) The first gig I went to by a band who were a big deal nationally: Echo and the Bunnymen, in the Caberfeidh, July 1983 (so, end of fifth year). I think they were on their way back from Iceland and for the sake of novelty/publicity they did a gig in Stornoway and possibly somewhere else tiny on the way back down. A band like that performing in Lewis was a very big deal: I'm not sure there had been anything like it before. The fact that I wasn't exactly a fan (as Donalda reminded me on another Facebook occasion, my view was 'Ian McCulloch? Give me Connie Francis any day!', a view I stand by) didn't stop me wanting to go (and there were certainly others there who were paying it less attention than I was during the gig - Lewis has I think a long tradition of sections of an audience treating the band as simply live background music for their night out); lots of my friends were there too, most of whom liked them more than I did, including Donalda (who mentioned this gig on her Facebook post; I'm pretty sure she and I stayed the night at my auntie Cathie's, in the Cearns). I remember a long queue waiting outside to get in, seemingly made up entirely of people I knew or recognised from school (and which, as Donalda points out, means that a huge number of the audience were there illegally as it was meant to be over-18s; I was just over sixteen). I remember seeing a 'historical' article on it long afterwards in Q, in which Torcuil Crichton was one of the people quoted. I remember quite enjoying the experience of it, even if they weren't really my thing; I liked the 'moving coloured oil on rotating slide' lightshow; I remember thinking they were a bit 'drunk' (which they may or may not have been) and that perhaps they weren't giving it everything or treating it very seriously (but whether they were or not, we had a great time and were very happy they were here).

d) The first gig I went to at university: The Stranglers, in the Capitol, Aberdeen. (Hmm, suddenly doubting myself and wondering if it was Runrig again, who I think I saw just before going home one Christmas - and online checking suggests The Stranglers would have been Feb 85 - but I don't think it was the first Christmas.) They weren't in fact the first band I saw: that was the support band, Egebamyasi (the name has stuck with me), who were awful. I got there unfashionably early, as I still do, and was surprised how few people were there, even when the support act started. I have a vague memory of people wandering around the stage, dressed oddly, someone whipping someone else and declaiming 'Suffer for Jesus!'. I wondered if The Stranglers had ever heard their support band; I couldn't imagine you would deliberately choose a support band who were so terrible. Now, I could. I stayed in my seat, among a sea of empty seats, for that, but went down the front for the Stranglers, as so many did, and ended up pretty near the front. I had gone by myself, but there were others from home there. I enjoyed it, but remember thinking it felt a bit like they'd passed their prime and were doing a greatest hits set; I don't know how true that was, but I did feel I was seeing them 'after the event'. (If it was Feb 85, then they were touring Aural Sculpture, which had No Mercy and Skin Deep on, which were pretty good, but I don't remember that from the concert.) I remember we had to wait ages for the encore because the keyboards broke down and they took ages to fix them; but I didn't really know how long big name bands made you wait for their encore, so I didn't know if the length of time was unusual; it was. I also remember there was a group of folk further back who would chant the intro to a song which would then turn out to be the next song the Stranglers played; this mystified me, until I realised, I think some long time later, that hardcore fans of a band would follow them around on tour, so they'd have heard the same setlist and running order for who knows how many nights previously.

e) The first gig I went to after I came down to London? I don't remember. I did keep a diary when I came down first, so there may be a note of it somewhere.

three sunday quotes

Saw these three on Twitter yesterday:
@rzimcanada: Anybody who claims that "all religions are essentially the same" hasn't actually studied any of them properly.
@Spurgeon_: He who affirms that Christianity makes men miserable, is himself an utter stranger to it - Spurgeon
@DailyKeller: “Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.”

the barefoot contessa; the water horse

On Monday 6 May last year - a bank holiday - I watched The Barefoot Contessa in the afternoon while the others were at London Zoo, and in the evening we all finished watching The Water Horse.

I quite enjoyed The Barefoot Contessa, and it was an interesting structure of flashbacks from different characters' viewpoints; the most surprising thing about it was that the main character had the same name as a friend from church. It ticked another off my non-existent list of main-Oscar-winning films, as Edmond O'Brien won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the publicist.

The Water Horse wasn't too bad either; I think I'd had in mind the Ted Danson movie about Nessie, so I was pleasantly surprised; it was well acted, and a little more nuanced than it could have been (although if it was supposed to be Loch Ness, the geography of the loch (as a sea loch) was all wrong, but necessary for the plot - I see from Wikipedia, which details some of the geographical infelicities, that it was a lake in New Zealand). But I wouldn't go out of my way to see it again.

berberian sound studio

On Friday 14 February I stayed up late to watch Berberian Sound Studio, which I'd recorded some time ago. I remembered Mark Kermode spoke well of it, and Toby Jones was in it, who is always good value, but I didn't really enjoy it. One of these films depicting some kind of breakdown where things make no sense to the character and the character can't tell what's real and what isn't, which I don't mind as an approach but which I don't like when the same is then true for the viewer, when it just all then becomes pointless. I really couldn't see what the point of it was, or where the framework of the reality might be. The most interesting thing about it was the presumably-accurate insight into the world of sound editing and sound effects, and therefore the heightened awareness of the sound editing/effects that were going on in the 'real bits' in the film, not just those they were making for the film they were working on.

british library crime fiction and children's fiction exhibitions

I have a note that on Saturday 13 April last year we were at the free crime fiction exhibition in the British Library, in the space in the entrance landing where they've started having exhibitions. We subsequently saw an exhibition there on children's books and their illustrators. Both of them were interesting, though I'm not sure either prompted me in the direction of any new book in particular. Their bookshop does have a good crime section, however, and it may have been on this visit that I bought a number of the early Martin Beck novels.

Here are links to the British Library pages for those exhibitions - crime and children.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

exoplanets and the power of science fiction

Just today listened to the podcast of the In Our Time on exoplanets - planets beyond our solar system - from last October. The most surprising thing to me in it was to discover that the first such planet was only discovered in the 1990s. My long exposure to over a hundred year's worth - and the rest - of science fiction meant that I had always assumed the existence of such planets, and it didn't occur to me that there was no evidence for them (other than 'why wouldn't there be?').

an advancement of learning

Started on Monday and finished on Thursday An Advancement Of Learning, the second Dalziel and Pascoe detective novel by Reginald Hill. It was better than the first, but still not great; the characters were slightly less unlikeable. I got six in a cheap deal, so will persist, not least because he's spoken of so highly by respected others. Maybe they pick up; also they're quite short, easy reads. But this one had one of those chapters near the end where the detective explains what led them to arresting the culprit for murder and how they did it, which leaves you thinking well yes I can see how that makes sense but I'm not sure I could reasonably have got there with the information you've shared with me up to now in the book (and a bit like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where you get the story from one of the culprits but think a) why did they tell them all that, and b) when it comes to the trial the lawyers will be able to create huge holes of doubt in that reasoning.

I've never watched the long-running TV adaptation; might be interesting to pick up a repeated series one of these times on Freeview and see what they're like.

the revenge of sherlock holmes - hoxton hall

On Saturday 27th April last year we all went to the matinee of The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes at Hoxton Hall, which was staged as a kind of Victorian Music Hall entertainment, with songs and turns, in a small hall which had been such a music hall in its time (my first time there). It was good fun, and well done; we all enjoyed it. We spoke to someone after who was the mum of one of the band, a music student sitting in for the regular person, the kind of thing Tom Gordon used to do.

Some reviews and related links from the first couple of Google search pages (mostly online rather than print-based publications, some new to me, including a couple which were Sherlock-driven rather than theatre-driven), which may also remind me of some of the details. The Stage. (Revival of a short-run thing from 1989, written by person with other successes - this restaging overcame the original's difficulties, apparently.) The Public Reviews. (Yes, there was a good deal of interacting with the audience. The photo reminds me that, as often, I thought I could see no reason why the production and performances could not be at home on a West End stage; it does seem a lottery what's a success and what's not, but the quality of productions and performances you can see in London's fringe theatres, not even just the 'notable', 'off-West End' ones, is in my experience so often very high indeed.) The production's Facebook page (some good info and photos - wonder how long it will endure - including the fact that they got best actor, actress and musical theatre nominations in the Offies). The Hoxton Hall page for the production. The Baker Street Babes. Broadway World. A Younger Theatre. What's On Stage. Bargaintheatreland. What's Peen Seen. Time Out (on second page of results, surprisingly, perhaps because so short). Wikipedia page for the musical. The news page on the website of Morphic Graffiti, the production company behind it (who haven't done much since it seems). Broadway Baby. One Stop Arts (I remember reading the tip, possibly here, to sit on the right or in the gallery so the band weren't too loud; we sat front row right (I don't think anyone was in the gallery when we were there). Musical Theatre Review. Napoleon of Holmes. Plays To See (another one which praises the choreography in particular). The Hackney Citizen. British Theatre Guide.

Yes, all those good reviews reminded me how much we enjoyed it, the less good ones didn't make me change my mind.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

london roman wall - vine street and cooper row

While meeting Douglas for lunch today at Aldgate, I dragged him along to look for what I think are the two remaining bits of London's Roman wall that I haven't seen before, going by my Museum of London Roman Wall Walk book, which relates to the info panels, not all of which are still there, or are there in replaced form.

We didn't find the one on Vine Street. The book's not very clear with its map, but I was sure we were where we were meant to be. It turned out we were, but the wall is in an office basement, only viewable fractionally from outside through a small window.

Here's a blog of someone who walked it who got a couple of photos from inside: http://inspiringcity.com/2013/04/20/the-old-city-wall-of-london/
- and to compare, here's a blog of someone who walked it who got a photo through the little window:
http://jimgunnee.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/walking-londons-roman-wall.html

So I don't feel foolish that we missed it.

The Cooper Row stretch we did find, usually described in places I've read as at the back of a car park, but it's a nice courtyard now. (Photos in both blogs above.) It (and therefore the lesser-spotted Fenchurch Street station, which we also swung by) is much closer to the Tower of London than it had occurred to me it would be; you could see it down the end of the street.

The second blog account above also has a photo of the wooden structure/sculpture marking/commemorating the location of the Aldgate itself, the east gate through the wall for the Colchester Road.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

christmas films

Apart from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (recorded off the telly), between Christmas and New Year we watched Ella Enchanted and Megamind live and back to back, and Toy Story 3. Ella Enchanted the younger generation and I had seen cheap in the cinema before, and I enjoyed it again; I liked the conceit, and it was well done. I think I liked it more than cherub, who preferred Megamind; Megamind wasn't too bad either, though. And then of course Toy Story 3 was very good, though not as tearjerky as I'd been led to believe. Mark Kermode I think considers it possibly the best film trilogy ever made, and that's certainly plausible, it keeps the quality up consistently.

deathly hallows part two

In January we watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, on a DVD borrowed from the library. Part 1 we had watched in the Christmas holiday. They made a good ending to the series, and quite a contrast to the lightness of the early episodes (I bought the first two secondhand on DVD on Friday, and the first one was being watched again that afternoon).

Monday, 10 February 2014

cloudy with a chance of meatballs 2

Two Saturdays ago the younger generation and I went to the cheap morning film at the Cineworld in the Dome/O2 - £1 each with the reduction for booking online. We brought our own supplies, so it was a very cheap cinema trip (though of course we had to pay my tube fare). There are a number of different cinemas within reach which do cheap Saturday morning screenings of non-current films, so there's usually something we could go to see if we wanted (although this Saturday just gone, for example, we'd seen them all already, or they were aimed at younger children).

I preferred the first film (which we saw on DVD I think - we certainly have it on DVD), but this view wasn't unanimous. I thought the first was more interesting and inventive, this more predictable and formulaic.

Afterwards we ate at Nandos, watched the mostly-girls settling down way early near the doors for that evening's Taylor Swift concert, and popped into the free Sky studio experience, where we took some fake photos of ourselves and did a fake newscast; haven't gone online to view/download the results yet.