Sunday, 30 October 2011

zombie womb music

An interesting and rather busy week.  A half term break often lends itself to some late morning lie-ins and possibly a trip away.  However, this week seems to have been a very busy one.

We started the week - I'm using the term loosely here, I mean since last Friday when we broke up - with the Songwriter Circle mentioned previously.  Saturday was a lazy-ish day with some vague shopping and a quiet night. On Sunday we took the aforesaid wardrobe down to Southampton.  We had a great couple of days down that neck of the woods including a visit to the National Motor Museum.  I honestly don't think I've ever been there before.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I have a (very) vague notion that I may have visited it in my youth but it is obviously a different place now to whatever it was like all those years ago. And I have nobody to ask if that was the case.  It probably wasn't that expensive then, either. Why is Heritage Britain so damned expensive?

Nowadays there are the Top Gear and James Bond, er, "Experiences" to enjoy - or is that "enjoy"? The few Bond cars were okay but disappointing and the TG stuff was quite amusing but actually, seeing Bluebird was far more exciting.  Learning about the AA (no not that one) was educational too.  I hadn't realised that they were set up to alert drivers to police speed traps and if they DIDN'T salute, there was a speed trap ahead.  Probably everyone else knew that already but it seems to have passed me by.

This reminds me of a story about the first visit to Britain by Carl Perkins, he of the blue suede footwear. Evidentally an increasingly agitated CP began to hassle everyone about the AA as in, "do you actually have the AA here in this little country?" Eventually someone told him to stop worrying as anytime there was a problem or he got into difficulties, the AA could be contacted via roadside phone boxes and they would appear as soon as possible to help out.  "Boy," CP exclaimed, "you sure know how to look after your alcoholics over here."

Anyway, after we'd been around the pleasures of the National Car Museum, we thought a quick trip on the monorail would be fun.  We queued up and eventually entered the little green overhead train - as there were four of us, we seemed to be left to take over the whole compartment. As we passed over the estate I became aware of a strange noise which I assumed to be an attempt at playing a soundtrack to the trip - a simulation of a steam train perhaps? Why, I couldn't fathom as we were thirty feet in the air.  But no, it wasn't that.  All I could hazard a guess at is a sort of what I referred to at the time as "zombie womb music" - I really have no idea why they would play such a weird soundtrack.  It was a sort of scratchy low screaming with occasional, well, monkey noises thrown in. If there's anyone out there who could enlighten me as to what it may have been (or been for) I would be mildly interested.

After all that excitement we came home to spend a few days sorting out what we laughingly refer to as the spare room.  Given no-one has been able to get in there (certainly not to sleep) for many years, it's certainly a bit of a misnomer.  Well, after a few trips to the tip and charity shops, we seem to have made a lot of headway there.  Well, you can get into the room now.

During this I finally managed to tackle a large box of cds that I have been meaning to deal with for a few years now.  You know the stuff, cds by artists you'd be too embarrassed to tell anyone you owned and ones you look at and think, "what the hell did I buy that for?"  I spent a pleasurable hour typing the barcodes into the computer on a site called Music Magpie which I heartily recommend to you if you need to assuage your guilt over crap you've collected over the years and desperately need to get rid of. It's all free - they'll collect or it's freepost - and then they send you a cheque.  I should get one for about £112 believe it or not.  We'll see.  I am reminded of a Frankie Howard film where he's thrown into gaol and the prisoner next door (through a thick wall) asks him what he got for his dinner.  Frankie replies that he only got bread - the prisoner tells him that he had got gravy too.  Would he like it if he dipped Frankie's bread into the gravy?  Of course an excited Frankie says yes and just then a brick in the wall moves back.  Mr Howard puts his bread into the hole in high expectation and excitement only for the bread to disappear and the brick is put back in place . . .

Oh well, we'll see. They have been highly recommended as a website and I'm sure it'll be fine.

The Nutshell - evidently 102 people once crowded into it!
Several parties this weekend - a friend has just retired and we went to his sixtieth do and we had to go to a "wedding party" this afternoon.  Nothing exciting but at least we were able to talk to our neighbours which needs doing every so often.  However, Friday evening we went to the new Apex Theatre in Bury St Edmunds to see June Tabor and the Oysterband.  A sublime evening musically.  Interestingly, the first person I bumped into was the former head of the previous school I taught at some ten years ago.  We also bumped into one of our neighbours in a Tapas bar (don't ask).  What are the chances of that?  About the same as bumping into a former associate in the middle of nowhere, Utah.  We managed that too a few years ago.  Also we went into the self-styled "smallest pub in Britain" which was crowded.  About six of us I think.  The other pubs that contest this claim have outside seating.  As The Nutshell is in the centre of Bury St Edmunds, there's no outside seating - well, the pavement, I suppose.  Actually, the beer was a bit crap - Greene King IPA.  As it's brewed in the town I suppoose that makes sense.  They should get some Adnams in there.  Shake things up a bit.

I've just finished reading The Story of English by Philip Gooden which was an excellent (and easy) read.  I thought it was about time I knew a bit about what I teach.

So, back to the interactive whiteboard face tomorrow.  I would like to think it will be for a rest but somehow I think it'll be anything but that.  I have a feeling that the Academy is only just starting to flex its muscles . . . there may be trouble ahead . . .

Next weekend we'll be down in the Brecon Beacons for a bit of walking so it's all very exciting down here on the East coast.  I've decided that I need to get back to the music now that I've updated about how exciting my life is (cf irony). 

Something a bit more interesting than zombie womb music, though.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

apocalypse when?

I woke up this morning . . . and the world was still turning.  Harold Campling's prediction was wrong, then.  Oh what a surprise. Still, "Welcome to the End of the World" was quite an opening to my first lesson of the day yesterday.  Unfortunately, the girl whose birthday it was didn't seem too impressed but seemed to take it stoically.

Actually, my year 8 class were great yesterday - imagine a class full of kids that couldn't give a flying one for English punctuation ended up totally engaged and arguing amongst themselves about how a totally un-punctuated paragraph should be re-written. Excellent. Blimey, I even had to teach them about the interrobang?! I also had a great lesson in the afternoon with my AS Film Studies group who got into an excellent discussion on Sliding Doors - a film that most of them probably would never have bothered to watch. By the time I got to the pub in the evening for a quick pint to end the half term with, I was feeling quite chipper.

Ryan Adams: elegantly wasted
After a decent Indian takeaway and a glass or two of wine, I was ready to fall asleep in front of BBC4.  However, the Songwriter Circle was pretty damned good. Although I'm not a fan of Janis Ian, she played quite well, but it was the matching of Neil Finn and Ryan Adams that kept me interested. Mrs Dave even spontaneously applauded Finn's version of Don't Dream It's Over out loud, which goes to show the quality of this programme. Actually, I remember she did that for Justin Currie last year too. Anyway, over the years since Adams' first solo album in 2000 he has displayed a quixotic attitude to his music.  I saw him live once - we wondered whether or not he'd still be alive by the end of the gig.  Exceedingly over-refreshed, he clambered up on top of a huge set of speakers to perform.  Didn't stay up there too long.

The new Ryan Adams album Ashes and Fire really is excellent and he seems back on form - evidently he's in love and straightened himself out a bit recently.  Possibly he's taking the Royal College of Physician's advice on alcohol-free days.  I must admit I am thinking quite seriously about this. Still, this would come out on the first day of the half term break, wouldn't it?  Fancy telling a teacher to have a few days off.  In all seriousness it's advice we know is sensible and definitely something we intend to  do. 

After the half term break, of course.

Right, I need to go and take a wardrobe to pieces and drive it down to Southampton, as you do.  We know how to celebrate 29 years of married bliss.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

living is a gamble, loving's much the same

I can't let the sad loss last week of someone who changed the World go by without making some sort of comment.

There are lots of people who are called a 'genius' - only occasionally is it really true.  We seem to have many people around who 'change our lives' with various technical devices that are said to make our lives easier.  I talk to young people every day and many of them do not understand how one can grow up without phones, computers, video games or your whole music collection in a box the size of a fag packet.  Whether or not we actually need these things or not is debatable, and I'm not sure that my life is easier for having them - it's just different.

When these geniuses shuffle off this mortal coil their work is held up to scrutiny and often there is a sudden rush to buy products related to them - we could call it the Amy Whitehouse effect, I guess. I'm sure that magic black boxes are flying off the shelves from impulse buys this week for obvious reasons.  I'm not sure if Bert Jansch cds are flying off the shelves.  I guess not.  His passing was quiet and dignified, much like the way he lived his life.

However, Bert's death came as a bit of a shock - the news was over-shadowed by the death of soemone far better known.  In his own way, Bert Jansch changed the World and to some he had as much impact as Steve Jobs.  If you doubt that, ask Neil Young, Jimmy Page, Donovan, Johnny Marr, Beth Orton and listen to Nick Drake's legacy.  The term 'genius' has been used in several obituaries and reports.  I'm not really sure if he was a genius or not but he sure as hell was one of the most influential acoustic musicians these shores have produced.

Bert was born on 3rd November 1943 in Glasgow.  By the time he released his first album in1965, he was a wanderer, journeyman and one of the most accomplished guitarists and songwriters of the folk boom.  I'm not going to write out a history but try reading Colin Harper's excellent book Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival (Bloomsbury Books, 2000). Harper's book really is a great read.  Unlike many such scribblings, Harper enjoyed many interviews with the quiet man himself. This meant that there is an honesty to the book - it's not cobbled together from old NME and Melody Maker interviews.

I saw Bert live a couple of times.  He really was amazing at Colchester Arts Theatre a few years ago but the first time I saw him  was at the Fleadh festival in London a while back.  A friend commented last night that the sound was awful - interestingly, I don't remember that.  All I remember is that I had finally managed to see this master musician live.  His vocal delivery was often mumbled but not in the same way John Martyn used his voice as an instrument, and his guitar playing was masterful. It's easy to say such things - my comments about the easy bandying around of the word 'genius' stands - but Jansch was in a class of his own.  The very free flowing style he used is beyond bedroom strummers like me but he was incredibly influential.  The Neil Young album On The Beach was very influenced by Jansch, especially the track Ambulance Blues and, of course, Young would never have written Needle and the Damage Done if it wasn't for Jansch's Needle of Death.

I'm listening to one of his live albums as I write and Blackwaterside has just come on - possibly one of Jansch's most famous songs.  I'm glad that I was able to see him perform it, and not just because I like the song but because it's a song that many people have recorded versions of.   The Oysterband, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson have all recorded versions but there is something very special indeed about Bert Jansch's version from his 1966 album Jack Orion.  I love the sheer, er, Scottishness of his The Ornament Tree (1990).

However, if you think that's all just living in the past, his last album Black Swan was released in 2006.  He was still writing new songs and working with and influencing a new generation of guitar players.  The title song is an interesting science fiction story.  All this and he played Yamaha guitars, not flashy hand built expensive models by master craftsman.  Very down to Earth.

He will be sadly missed and his like will not be seen in these parts again.