Archive for February, 2013

I don’t know much about classical music…..


I have been listening a lot to Sibelius this week. JTO says she thinks it sounds cold, drawing pictures Sibeliusof the Finnish countryside in the current season. I, on the other hand, hear warmth in the music. People in the warmth of their homes. The ending of the long cold winter and the arrival of the spring and the warmth. The CD contains symphonies 5-7, The Oceanides, Finlandia and Tapiola played by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paavo Berglund. As you will see from the cover of the CD they did not go with the cold and snowy Finland but with the land of lakes.

The title of this piece is half of a saying usually made about art and attributed to people who are philistines. It continues “…but I know what Sibelius III like.” I never learnt about classical music, I don’t really know much about it and that which I like I came to via a different range of influences. Take Sibelius. That’s him on the right of this post.According to the notes on the CD, “the ‘age of Romanticism’ was bound up with an outbreak of nationalist fever in those countries outside the well established French/Austro-German/Italian musical traditions.” It goes on to mention “Glinka in Russia, Liszt in Hungary, and Smetana in Bohemia followed by Grieg in Norway, Nielsen in Denmark, Albéniz in Spain, Alfvén in Sweden and Elgar in England.”  It places Sibelius in this tradition. The Fifth Symphony is the one I started listening to this CD for. The notes go on to say, “Compared to the agonisingly bleak and introspective Fourth Symphony, Sibelius’ Fifth is a far more outward-going and positive affair, the composer’s final musical statement in the heroically conquering mould familiar from his first two symphonies. Originally cast in four movements and completed just in time for his 50th birthday celebrations, Sibelius later telescoped the first two movements into one to produce one of the most exhilarating utterances in the history of symphonic form. The gently contemplative central movement provides a sobering contrast before the indelible horns calls of the finale push the music ever onwards towards its exultant conclusion.” Ah the horns.

In November 1984 I first heard ‘Since Yesterday’ by Strawberry Switchblade. I loved the ‘indelible horns’ at the start of the song and that recur during it. A friend who worked in a record store knew of my love for this song and, when clearing things out from his record collection, gave me the whole album it came from. It was some time later that I learnt that the musical theme in the song had been taken from the Third Movement of the Fifth Symphony by Sibelius, which was why I bought it and now listen to it.

That has pretty much been a theme of my life. If I find something I like I go back to the things that inspired the author or musician. It was from my love of Echo and the Bunnymen that I went back to the inspiration of the lead singer and found Leonard Cohen. It sometimes went astray. When, as a young man in my late teens/early twenties, I loved the writing of Jack Kerouac I sought out his inspiration Thomas Wolfe, the American writer from the early part of the twentieth century. I instead found Tom Wolfe the then writer of new-Journalism and now noted author.

So, I discovered the late String Quartets of Beethoven from the book ‘The Unbearable Lightness of imgresBeing‘ by Milan Kundera, one of my all-time favourite books. The main character is agonising over whether to return to Soviet Prague from Paris to follow his partner. She loves Beethoven and introduced his music to him. The last movement of Quartet 135, the last, is called ‘the difficult decision.’ It has a theme running through it “Muss es sein? Es muss sein.” (Must it be? It must be.) The main character reflects on this whilst agonising over the decision and, when he has made a decision he justifies the decision my “Es muss sein!” Beethoven fits into other themes in the book about heaviness and lightness but it was listening toimgres-1 the music after reading that section of the book and hearing the theme as described that led me to fall in love with the piece of music.

Morrissey is to blame for another. The only time I saw the Smiths the first song they played was the eponymous first track from the album, The Queen is Dead, which starts with actress Cicely Courtneidge nostalgically singing the First World War song ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty‘ from the 60’s film ‘The L Shaped Room‘. Before that the Montagues and Capulets from Serge Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliette was played through the PA. I was aware of the piece of music but after being put to such a use I had to have it on record.

There are other similar stories to each of the pieces of classical music in my record collection apart from two which feature Mozart’s last three symphonies. Those were given to me by my mother when I left home and I have played them a lot of times and have come to love them a lot.

A Top of the Pops


I was asked in December to take part, with a group of other people, in getting together lists of the best of 2012. I took too long to reply and, in a way, I’m pleased because four albums which I’ve grown to like, that were produced last year, I hadn’t heard at that point. If I’d taken part I would not have included them. I know it’s a bit late into this year to be looking back at the last year, but ‘what the hell’ I’m going to do it anyway.


Amazon did a top 100 of the year, NPR Music did a top 50, as did NME. I wrote in November about Piccadilly Records doing one at the end of November. I only got 14 new albums during the year, and 4 of those were over Christmas so dividing them into a top 10 and ranking them seems a bit superfluous. It was heartening as someone who turns 50 in less than a month to see Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan return with strong new albums and I have grown to love the John Cale very much. I would strongly recommend any of the ones from this list:

  • Old Ideas – Leonard Cohen
  • Tempest – Bob Dylan
  • Blunderbuss – Jack White
  • Sun – Cat Power
  • Sonic Kicks – Paul Weller
  • Island Fire – Gemma Ray
  • Not Your Kind of People – Garbage
  • Standing at the Sky’s Edge – Richard Hawley
  • Come of Age – The Vaccines
  • Co-Exist – The XX
  • Born to Die – Lana Del Rey
  • Carrington Street – Adele & Glenn
  • Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood – John Cale
  • One Day I’m Going to Soar – Dexys


I saw more films than I bought and listened to music. Special mention goes the ‘The Guard’ ‘The Separation’, The Descendants’, ‘Millennium’, ‘Margin Call’. ‘Ruby Sparks’, ‘Ides of March’ and ‘Skyfall’. I was blown away by ‘Life of Pi’ and I can see why people said it could no be filmed, and without special effects it could not have been, and a an extra special mention for ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ which was charming. Special opprobrium for Sherlock Holmes which was rubbish and I only went to see it because the first minute or so was filmed here in Strasbourg.

  • The Guard
  • J Edgar Hoover
  • The Separation
  • The Descendants
  • Mrs Henderson Presents
  • Sherlock Homes & Games of Shadows
  • Millennium
  • Iron Lady
  • Margin Call
  • W.E.
  • Ruby Sparks
  • Paperboy
  • Ides of March
  • 3 Days of the Condor
  • Skyfall
  • Life of Pi
  • Moonrise Kingdom


In terms of number I read slightly fewer books than films I watched but more than albums I bought and listened to. However, signing up to Goodreads in June means it was easy to track what I read in the last year and to rank them. As I gave five stars to the autobiography of Madeline Albright, the fourth instalment of Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ and to Stonemouth by Ian Banks they were obviously the top three with a one, two, three in the order I mentioned them.

  • Priors Garden – Jane Griffiths
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Unfinished Revolution – Phillip Gould
  • I An Actor – Nicholas Craig
  • A View from the Foothills – Chris Mullin
  • Back to Blood – Tom Woolfe
  • Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
  • Master of the Senate – Robert Caro
  • Stonemouth – Iain Banks
  • NW – Zadie Smith
  • Transition – Iain Banks
  • Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half Forgotten Europe – Norman Davies
  • Lionel Asbo: State of England
  • Prague Winter: A personal Story of Remembrance and War – Madeleine Albright
  • Love Me Do – Michael Braun
  • The Human Factor – Graham Greene

Film 2013


I’ve never been one for doing reviews of films, never really thought people would be interested 20135961.jpg-r_160_240-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxin what I had to say about them. However. Last month I just managed to catch up on two films that were being shown as part of a Télérama (Radio Times but more intellectual) catch up on the best films of last year, Holy Motors and The Deep Blue Sea.(Links to trailers for the films) The first showed someone working throughout Paris at night and the second showed a Judge’s wife falling for a former Battle of Britain airman. Both were really good and enjoyable. The former with the added bonus of an appearance of Kylie! I was really sorry to miss out on The Master but I did.

Then last week I went to Zero Dark Thirty. I had been concerned at the first half being about how intelligence about the search for the head of Al Qaeda and the operation to take him out. Enthralling cinema.

trailersThen this weekend and a veritable cinema feast. First up was Silver Linings Playbook.(Happiness Therapy in France) I had received a lot of encouragement from the best blogger in Reading, and he won’t like this, but the positive encouragement was added to by Stephen Fry on the Danny Baker Show where he talked about the subtlety of this film. From the performances of the male and female lead through to the shades in the OCD of Robert De Niro. It is a fantastic life-affirming film, go and see it now!

Then I went to see Django Unchained. I had expected to see a Tarantino blood-fest, which I did not think it was so much. I also thought it had much more of a story than his recent films, a lot of wit and a good story. It also had, as legal blogger David Allen Green pointed out, thought-provoking moments with regard to the law.

The last film of the weekend was a visit to see Lincoln last night. imgres-1This was the most disappointing film of the last four.  It was a fine performance from Daniel-Day Lewis and Shirley Field. I thought the film was dull, too much of a reflection of the Iraq-all-war-is-nonsense hokum and, as someone with experience of Parliamentary maneuvers and knowledge of the working of the US system through reading the fantastic Robert Caro books on Lyndon Johnson, suffered from the double problem of being too long and not dramatic enough.

Well, three fantastic films and one  worthwhile story that could have been told better, that still leaves Sugar Man, Hitchcock and Shadow Dancer on show. I hope the remaining months are as good as February seems to be.

You know what this has to end with:

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