Posts Tagged ‘music’

#happysongsaturday #2 (On Sunday!)


Reader’s may have noticed something wrong with this post. It isn’t Saturday but Sunday I’m writing it. It’s not very good, having started something one week to fall down the very next week. I do not really have an excuse so will just have to try to do better next week. If I was to try one it would be something about the almost Annual Dinner of the English language theatre group I belong to here in Strasbourg, but frankly it doesn’t cut the mustard as an excuse. Incidentally a good evening was had by all.

When I posted this first last week I asked readers to send me examples of what are happy songs for them. I did not expect to get any response immediately. My hopes were that people might notice my little efforts over time and the occasional suggestion might be made. You can imagine my shock and pleasure to get two suggestions. So this week. #happysongsaturday is being driven by one of the readers.

Rob from Reading wrote to suggest Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson and in doing so said “It was re released I think around 87m 88 and I heard it on a jukebox in the Boars Head. It reminds me of sunshine and the swooning feeling you get when you meet a new love. I’m pretty sure the weather was hot. As you know I dj a bit and this always gets people up.”



I’m not a regular visitor to art galleries, if I go once a year that is unusual. Unless I go somewhere like Amsterdam when I go and see the  Van Goghs. 14127_425053509347_4360261_nThis year I have been to three different galleries. What changed?

I don’t know how long I have been a fan of the paintings of Mondrian. I fell for the simplicity of three primary colours, three non colours, blocks and lines. It was seeing one, in the flesh to speak, in the 1980’s that showed me that the real ones have so much more, the intention, vivacity and life, totally the opposite to the cold austere painting you would expect. I went specially to find a studio in west London to get the T-Shirt, using the design, I am pictured wearing in 1986. I have written in the past about Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’ and Springtime for Mondrian.

It just so happened that this year there were two Mondrian exhibitions. None for ages, remarks about buses etc.
mill-in-the-evening-1905The first was an exhibition of Mondrian and Colour at the Turner Gallery in Margate in early August. It went back way before the abstract works he’s best known for to the time when he was a landscape painter in Holland painting pictures of the river near to his house like the one on the right. Trees, farms windmills and other normal landscape subjects. Then, he was influenced by the-red-millcubism and pointillism after spending time in Paris and the impact of painters like Braque and Picasso on his style. Stuck in Holland by the outbreak of the First World War during a visit home his style developed to what we know today. It was fascinating to follow the development from standard Dutch landscape painter through to the painter of the abstract grid shaped blocks of colours he is known for.

The second exhibition was at the Tate Liverpool and was ‘Mondrian and his Studios’ complete with the recreation of one of his studios in Paris. The exhibition had photos from various of his studios showing that he tended to convert the places he lived in into his art, painting them the same colours and having his paintings on the walls. It was possible to walk around in the recreated studio to get an impression of what it would be like for him to be working, in amongst his art works and big blocks of colour. mondriansparisstudioI’ve taken the picture from the Tate website showing people looking around in the studio. What I learnt from this exhibition was that he worked on variations to the lines, the blocks of colour and edge of the painting so that the variation in different paintings is not just about the different arrangement of the blocks of colour. It’s interesting to speculate on the impact the place he lived had upon his broadway-boogie-woogiedevelopment with the cityscape of Paris, with the buildings giving the straight lines and block shapes. He was always a fan of music and in his last painting we can see the impact the move to New York had upon him, as the Mondrian sites says, “boogie-woogie obviously had a profound impact on him. Nevertheless, the most important factor in the origin of this painting, and of the “mutation” in his art, must have been the experience of the daily rhythm of New York itself, the pulsating movement that animates Broadway, especially at night, and, in thorough keeping with the old principles of De Stijl, creates a harmony out of the opposition of contraries.”

images-1Two Mondrian exhibitions but I thought you said you had been three times this year? Yes and the third was to a Tate gallery too but this time to the Tate Modern for the exhibition of Malevich. I didn’t really know anything about Kazimir Malevich before and it was not my intention to visit the exhibition before my 11 week visit to the UK. However the Margate exhibition had said that he was a big influence on Mondrian so after that I had to go. I went on my last day in the UK before returning to Strasbourg

He too started off painting landscapes but then influenced by what was happening in Paris with cubism and futurism in Italy his painting developed into a more abstract form like ‘the Scyther’ pictured. He developed further and in 1913 painted the imgresBlack Square which was what gained him fame. This time too there was a recreation (pictured) but this time it was of an exhibition from December 1915, ‘The Last exhibit of Futurist Painting 0.10’ of which only a photo remains. The original exhibit contained pictures from other members of the group Malevich was working with at the time although the recreation focused solely on his work. As in the original exhibit the Black Square is positioned in the corner high up. This is the position of an icon in Orthodox homes which has imagesbeen suggested emphasising the ‘spiritual qualities’ of the painting or that it might have been a ‘provocative blasphemy’. He went on to paint other Suprematist works but  returned to figurative painting although the influence of the abstraction and Suprematism were still obvious in them as can be seen in the painting.

images-2The title for this piece comes from a musical reference as so many do. It is from the Brazilian group CSS and is the title of one of their songs. I saw them play at the venue around the corner  and they were very good live. If you get the chance to see them then do.

Words of the Seventies


Things are supposed to come in threes. That’s what they say. So, it must be true. It certainly has for me recently with books about the music industry in the 70’s.

For a long time I’ve been meaning to buy a copy of Danny Baker’s autobiography, ‘Going to Sea in a Sieve’ and didn’t get round to it then in April I did. I listen to his radio show on five live as a podcast and enjoy the warm and positive attitude he has, though he could do with listening to what the people who call in say a bit more often! I had already heard some of the anecdotes from the show but enjoyed reading a lot more about growing up in south-east London and then going to work in a record shop after leaving school and then to New Musical Express(NME) in the seventies and into television in the eighties. I enjoyed reading his take on a time and music that had a big impact upon my teenage self.

The next two books I read I had pre-ordered to get them on publication so the timing of their arrival was outside my control.

I first came across Mark Ellen on the music programme ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ though it might have been modernised to, ‘Whistle Test’ by the time he joined it. I loathed him. I thought he was a smug, self-satisfied public schoolboy and I just wanted to slap him. This opinion continued for some time. Together with his only slightly more acceptable sidekick, although it was probably the other way round and he was the sidekick to David Hepworth, he had been involved in running Smash Hits, the magazine for girls, that as a reader of NME, you looked down upon as been ephemeral and so not serious. Cause pop music isn’t supposed to be fun and ephemeral is it? As I grew older I stopped reading NME and stopped being interested in music for a while. Around the middle of the last decade I started buying different magazines, Q, Mojo, and the Word. As regular readers will know I fell heavily for the Word and was a subscriber for the last few years of its life. I came to look forward to a literate but not showy magazine about the latest releases and things which were happening in the music world but also had interesting coverage of writers, books and films. I even came round to a fondness for the podcast, it was the Word podcast which first hooked me onto what has now become a heavy podcast habit, and I would enjoy the conversations involving Mark Ellen and David Hepworth. I recognise from the book being bitten by the music bug as a teenager, it being the only thing that is important. Reading books because they’ve been referenced by the latest idol, seeing films because the idol has talked positively about them. Mark went on to work for the NME too and then went onto work and edit magazines like Smash Hits, Q etc before the Word. For me there was too much about interviewing Lady Gaga when she didn’t have a stitch on or what it was like touring as part of a massive press and fan entourage following Rhianna around five cities in five days and not enough about the Word. But then I can understand that might be a minority view. I saw Mark Ellen on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ last weekend and they showed a clip of him introducing the Smiths on Whistle Test. It says something of how he has grown that his response to seeing his 80’s self doing a poncey introduction was that he needed a slap.

The last book of the trilogy is ‘Clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music,boys, boys, boys.’ by Viv Albertine. Viv also grew up in London, north, and was different from the previous two, as well as being a woman, because she made music rather than wrote about it. From being a music obsessed teenager via a job at a venue and the epiphany that Patti Smith showed that a girl like her, and from Johnny Rotten that someone from a council estate like her, could  play in a band. The first attempt, ‘Flowers of Romance’ with Sid Vicious failed but then she joined the Slits and wrote some of, recorded and released the seminal album, ‘Cut’. I remember the shock the subjects of the songs created when it was released, songs about a girls experience, that’s not music! Something added to by the cover of the album where they are topless covered in mud. Like the previous book this brings the story up to the present day, through a career as a fitness instructor in the 80’s and attempts at domestic bliss up to the album ‘The Vermilion Border‘ released in February last year and one of the albums of the year – different from ‘Cut’ but then she’s a different person – singing about being a woman in her 50’s, how many times do you hear about that? Here she is talking about the book:

It’s not only that the first two are written by men and the last by a woman and that they wrote about music whilst she played it that differentiates them. The first two are very heavy on anecdote and told in the boy way to create camaraderie with other boys sat around in a gang. The last is searingly honest, talks about experiences and emotions, talks about the failures as fully and in as much detail as the successes. The bad times as much as the good times. The first two are mostly failure free, unless it can be turned into a funny anecdote against themselves, even the failure of the Word is dealt with in a throw-away remark. I was entertained by the first two, I learnt something and was engaged emotionally and personally by the last one.

Here’s one of my favourite songs from ‘The Vermilion Border’, ‘Confessions of a MILF’;


Buttons of Brixton!


When I lived in Brixton I bought a blazer from the nearby MacMillan charity shop for about a fiver.P1110885 It’s royal blue with red stripes.(Pictured left.) If the shop obtained it from nearby residents it must have come from one of the more leafier parts of Brixton as the label says it is ‘Aquascutum of London at Alfred Sayers of Ealing and Wembley.’

I wore it quite a bit in London but now living in Strasbourg the winter’s are too cold and the summers too hot to wear it much of the time. I’ve been here five and a half years so I must have had the jacket more than six years. In that time it had it most of the buttons had decided to part company with the blazer. The buttons were quite dull, unobtrusive metallic ones.(Pictured right.)P1110889

At the weekend JTO and I went to the restaurant Marco Polo to celebrate her birthday – the Jambonneau braisé au miel et picon bière, pommes sautées, salade was fantastic!

Afterwards we adjourned to one of Strasbourg’s record shops to se if there was anything worth buying for Record Store Day (Here known as Disquaire Day!) – I hadn’t seen anything listed that I wanted so I hadn’t made any special effort to get anything. There was nothing.

P1110922We returned home via Petite France (EN) to go to La Mercerie Du Bain Aux Plantes to see if they had any buttons I could put on the blazer. After some effort we found some gold circular ones that fitted the existing holes and really  jazzed up the blazer.

We returned home and it had been quite an awful day , weather wise, so we were not going to go out. Why not sew on the buttons? I first did the three on the frontP1110886 used to do the jacket up and they were a bit tight but worked.

I then had to cut off the two remaining old, dull buttons on one sleeve and sewed three new buttons on each of the sleeves. As you can see from the picture on the right, they look really quite impressive. I must say I was quite pleased with myself.

I was taught to sew by my mother just as she taught me to cook etc as she believed boys should be able to do these things. I also learned to sew at school as, by the time I was studying everyone did these and everyone did metalwork. I have previously written about my sewing exploits.

I desperately wanted to avoid ‘Suits You’ as the headline so the one above is a play on:



I had not really heard the term bucket list much until recently. 9788883701009-850_1I must have missed the film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. A bucket list is a list of things to do before you die, you kick the bucket. I have for a long time had a list of places I wanted to visit. I kept them in my Moleskine notebook.Like the one on the left) Also in it were details of books I wanted to read and records to buy.

I then found out about the website where you can post details of your bucket list, of course there had to be such a thing in MV5BMTY2NTUyMjIyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzYwMDM4._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_good old cyberspace. So I got an account and put a few things on it.

Today I was uploading my list from my notebook to the site. (Sounds very technical, I was just typing the item into the list and giving some background on why I wanted to do the thing as a start for writing the mater up once I had achieved it.) I was pleased because I found that I had achieved one item from the list already. It was written in April 2008. (I know that as there are items written before and after it which place it at that time.) That item which had been achieved was to visit Hamburg which I did in the last weekend of June 2011.

It was a fantastic visit and I am surprised I did not write about it here. Places I want to goAs well as the Reeperbahn and the Beatles museum we visited the home of the Hamburg football team in the city, St Pauli, walked around the city, had a tour of the harbour, went to the wonderful Sunday morning fish market which sold most other things than fish and ate well and drank some good beer.

Home is in the Rhine valley between the two mountainous ranges of the Vosges and the Schwarzwald meaning the air is pretty still. It was great being somewhere where there was a proper breeze coming inland from the sea.

Since visiting Riga repeatedly when JTO was working there, having completed our goal of visiting every European city, and my having enjoyed living in Liverpool when there as a student, we had decided to try and visit Hanseatic port cities, of which this was the first. Last year we visited Gdansk which I wrote about on this blog here, here and here.

So, it is nice that one item on my bucket list has had some of it achieved.

I’m just not buying it


Two articles on the future of retail. One talking from an personal experience and the other mostly pontificating url-1based upon stories that had been in other media. A vivid contrast in thoughtfulness, judgement and identifying what can be concluded from experience. To start with the second:

“Redefining the role of retail in regeneration policy is now a key challenge for planners in the UK. Much of the urban re-generation through the 1990s and the first decade of the new century focused on the importance of the city centre(1). UK projects drew from European success stories: Barcelona, Berlin, Bilbao and applied it to our new public spaces. Planning criteria drawn up under John Prescott during the first term of Labour Government acted as a constraint on the out-of-town mall and sprawling retail parks as the first priority for retail chains. The rules didn’t halt out of town development but it did push the balance back toward the urban centre. Had this been a matter of solely planning intent it would have been doomed from the outset. The market was on the side of the planner. Affluence, increasing disposable income and cultural changes created in the UK a much expanded ‘after hours’ economy which was to do with far more than mere alcohol consumption. Eating out in the UK had been something only the better off could do until the 1980s since when it has grown dramatically. The growth of dining out as much as anything else made city centre became a destination for the evening and created employment for an increasing pool of young part-time labour. Music, club culture and the resurgence of cinema all played their part in transforming the ‘closed after work’ UK city centre to an all day, all night economy.”

I’ll start with a declaration of interest in that I was involved in the successful work to revamp the city centre of a imgresmajor southern town in the 1990’s – that’s my qualification for commenting on the shortcomings of this piece. I’ll come back to the first sentence later. The following paragraph I essentially agree with though it wasn’t just the examples from abroad which were followed, there were examples, both the good and the bad, from closer to home that were able to be learnt from. During this time I was also an employee trustee on my pension scheme and after the early 90’s recession the investment which gave the best returns was retail so people were seeking to invest in it too. This undermines the following paragraph as the motor came from investors looking to build new or expanded retail. The paragraph also puts too much emphasis on night-time activity. People want to eat-out, go to the cinema etc as well as shop, and not just at night but throughout the weekend.

“But whatever else was going on in city centre regeneration retail was always the magnet. In the UK we like our retail. Enough urban planners and politicians grasped the notion that ‘going to the shops’ was and is a major part of the lives of many ordinary people, especially women. It was a constant, a given, aspirational consumerism that crossed class and culture. Through the past two decades we created a quality experience around it and our cities thrived. Whatever else might change people would always ‘go to the shops’, wouldn’t they? Well, no and it is having a significant effect in our cities. UK commentators have focused on the recession and falling consumer spending but more significant for the retail sector is the effect of web-based retail. Recent closures at Comet, Jessops and HMV have added to a range of familiar names that have been left behind by the shift to online spending. Retail staff report that ‘going to the shops’ has become a scouting mission – find the facts, touch the product, compare, contrast, get a little demonstration, then go home to order it online for a few quid less. Staff in fashion retail outlets report spending as much time dealing with internet returns as making sales. You don’t need to be chief economist at the IMF to work out the consequences. The trend won’t end with this recession either (whenever that may be). Recession confirms and accelerates market trends, rarely does it create them.”

imgres-1The paragraphs here shows the danger of this kind of black/white pontification. By overemphasizing the constancy of shopping in the first paragraph it sets up that now there have been changes it is catastrophic. I remember the recession of the 1980’s and that at the start of the 1990’s. Some chains of shops went out of business. Largely those who were the least secure economically or just those that were badly run. The last sentence is one of the few things correct about the piece. Recession means that economically under-performing businesses are more likely not to see the other side of the recession. The statement that web-based retail  is a more significant effect is supported with no evidence. Is it really the case that people are buying washing machines on the internet and not at Comet? Really? We then get another unsupported statement that all people do is go to the shops to check things out then go home and buy it on the net.

The crass mention of women though highlights the major error of this piece. Most people do not go shopping to buy something as imgres-2cheaply as possible. Last weekend was my birthday and after eating lunch we went to a nearby record shop on a whim. between two of us we ended up with three records and had a great time looking at different records, showing them to each other and talking about them. When I lived in the southern town I often worked on Saturday and we’d go out or lunch which was often followed by some shopping. Done for the fun of it. I could probably have got the records cheaper on eBay, I would always have been able to get what I bought after my lunch cheaper elsewhere but it was the social aspect of shopping. I have just lost a large amount of weight which my existing shirts do not reflect. When paid last month and this month I’ve bought a couple of new shirts. In one case because I lusted after it in the window of the shop as I passed. You cannot do that on the internet. Another tow shirts I bought because I saw the shops were having a sale, I went in and found shirts I wanted at a reasonable price. One of the shops sends me details by email, I could have bought from them online but I preferred to go in the shop, look at what was available, try the shirts on and buy them.

There was a lot of similar hand wringing when Woolworths departed the High Street, well in the UK. In September I was staying with family in Derbyshire and went into a shop I’d not experienced before, Wilkinson. They were great for the kind of toiletries which are hideously expensive here in France. I visited them again when in the UK staying with different family in Walthamstow where a visit to Wilko’s is an almost weekly event. Just as one of life’s certainties is death, another is that as one dies another is born.

“In Reading, one of the UK’s leading retail centres at a highly successful 90s city centre regeneration that has punched above its weight in the good times has seen a marked increase in vacant and available (on the market) retail space since 2009 (2).

Q4 2009 6.72% 4.69%
Q4 2010 9.03% 7.01%
Q4 2011 10.97% 8.93%
Q4 2012 11.13% 10.03%

While still below the UK average this trend should worry local policy makers, landlords and city centre business operators. The challenges they face are clear:

  • If the magnet for the city centre economies is losing its pull, how do we maintain the health of our cities?
  • How do major retailers respond to the challenge of web commerce?
  • How do national governments and the EU deal with tax sheltering multi-nationals who undercut local trade and put nothing back into communities?
  • What does it mean for property owners, investors and landlords when there is increasing vacancy in relatively new properties?

And aside from the more obvious economic consequences, what does this say for the quality of leisure experience when diversity is sucked out of city centre commerce? What does it do to our social lives? Two experiences brought this home to me: going to a major department store to purchase a lamp advertised in their mailshot only to find stock levels were so poor we were told to order online; and seeking in vain a pair of boot laces (off and on trying around fifteen stores) only to resort to Amazon.

If our city centres are not to enter a new period of crisis and decline creative thinking will be needed on many levels to adjust to these powerful market trends.”

A look at the number of empty properties in the last recession would give similar figures. More important than raw numbers though is the question of where the empty properties are. Are they in the prime retail spaces or in secondary? A much more important piece of information is footfall. The number of people visiting a place. What’s happened to that in the major and secondary shopping ares? As for the questions, well the first is an ‘if’ question so we have not received any evidence in the piece that the magnet for the city centres is losing its pull. In response to the second by selling what people want in a place they want to go to to buy it. The third question is not just restricted to retail, it applies throughout the economy and the fourth is not as obvious as it seems as the way the system works having property empty is not always a problem for a landlord or owner, when it’s retail, as it is when it’s other property. The two finishing anecdotes just reinforce that those retailers that survive will be those which sell things people want and have it available. The message of the much more thoughtful first piece:

What happens after the great retail clear-out?

url“Not long ago Oxford Street had ten book shops. Now it has none – unless you count WH Smith. Not long ago it also had half a dozen places you could buy records. It now has just one – and a sorry, understocked specimen it is at the moment. Records and books are fast disappearing from our retail environment. You no longer encounter them on the way to get a sandwich. They enter most people’s lives as noughts and ones or via the sturdy cardboard Amazon package. I wonder whether they’ll come back. Obviously not on the same level but maybe at a level enough to sustain some manufacture, distribution and retail, many notches below the mad over-supply of ten years ago. We always cherish things just as they’re about to slip away altogether. People had been gaily chucking away vinyl for years before they realised that this redundant, fragile format was about to be reborn as a soulful antique. When I did a programme for Radio Four about bootlegs a few years back there was reputedly only one record deck in the whole of the BBC. Now they’re ordering them up like there’s no tomorrow. Even CDs are now starting to feel just a little bit precious, which never happened before. This is bound to be more the case as new CDs and books become less visible and more expensive, as they’re surely bound to do as the number of retail outlets shrinks and Amazon, having taken control of the market, decides to push the price. I was in Waterstone’s in Piccadilly on Saturday, which is a pretty civilised place to buy books. I saw a book I was interested in. It was £9.99. I looked it up on the Amazon app on my phone. They had it for £6.89.On two occasions recently I’ve walked out of independent book shops which didn’t have what I asked for and hadn’t heard of it either, stood on the pavement outside and ordered from Amazon from my phone. Both times I was thinking “I hope they’re watching.”In Waterstone’s I bought the copy in the shop. It’s a nice environment, easy to navigate and the staff were pleasant. But more important than they, they had it. That’s the clincher.I don’t expect to be able to find comprehensive book stores on every corner. A handful in the centre of London would probably do me fine. I would be perfectly happy with that.”

Two pieces on retail, the last quoted thoughtful and reflective upon experience, both good and bad. The other trying to bend the facts to fit the black and white pontificating, which they don’t, and then ignoring a whole part of the subject. The piece on Reading shows the ignorance and poor judgement which explains why the writer ran away from involvement in politics in the town, just before being run out of the place, after the debacle and lack of judgement that was the one-way IDR. I know who I will turn to for insight and intelligent commentary.

50,000 miles beneath my brain


When a teenager at school someone in the same year as me said he had just got a load of cassettes from a relative and would I like to buy them. ref=sr_1_3They weren’t prerecorded but previously blank tapes that people had recorded albums onto. They were in a cardboard box and I didn’t get to choose which I wanted it was all or nothing. There were some I wanted and some I knew nothing about. One of the ones I knew I wanted was the whole Woodstock album. David Hepworth talks about the film of the same album here.

One of the tapes that fell into the second group, that ref=sr_1_3-1I knew nothing about, was Ten Years After’s ‘Cricklewood Green.’ It’s not often that something blows me away but this did. In particular tracks like, ‘Love like a man’, ‘50,000 miles beneath my brain’ and ‘Working on the road’ are just fantastic with a mix of blues and great organ playing topped off by the fantastic guitar playing of Alvin Lee. His big break came via the performance the band put in at Woodstock.

The cassettes have done what my mother calls “gone the way of all flesh.” A couple of years ago something reminded me of the tracks and I downloaded them, I think they might even have been the first tracks I downloaded, and I enjoyed playing them again. On Tuesday night whilst out seeing Jake Bugg at the venue round the corner I’d been reminded that Ten Years After were playing there in October and I’d remembered that I wanted to go.Then yesterday it was announced that Alvin Lee had died. I was sorry that I would now not get to see Ten Years After but in the process of writing this I discovered that he had not been playing with the band for some time and that the gig seems still to be on. Here they are with working on the road. Enjoy:

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

Everything’s gone green & crazy English


On Friday I went to see some people about work after Christmas and cycled through an area of Strasbourg called Esplanade to get there. I have been along this route several times, particularly when I used to go Fencing but I was either on the tram or did not have my camera. This time I did and I reproduce for you a picture of two tower blocks.



So what? They’re tower blocks, just the ame as in any other city? The black panels facing us are not just any cladding but are solar panels, facing the south. So, the building will not just consume electricity  but generate it too.  Something I think is good and I’m pleased to see the Council making an effort to reduce the environmental impact. They have a plan for this which can be read here.

On a separate note, whilst making my way home on Friday I passed a shop that had closed down. In its window was the following sign:



What is a ‘relooking’ apart from another bastardisation of the English language when swallowed into French. Just the same as using parking as a noun for the car park or talking about trainings for training courses. Grrrrr!

The title comes from one of the first singles from New Order, one of the many fabulous tracks from the band, after they stopped being Joy Division, enjoy:

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