Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kamasi Washington at Mavu

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 27-August-2016

Kamasi was appearing as part of the Locus Festival 2016. This was our first visit to the atmospheric venue that is Mavu although our friend Kath has been several times before. It is a masseria (country house) approached down a winding, candle-lit country lane.

We got there early to ensure we could grab some of the limited seating - cushions on hay bales.

The main courtyard is surrounded by trulli where the food and drink concessions followed the Italian system of queue to pay the cashier for a chit, then queue again to get your food, and queue again to get your drinks.

The concert started towards 11pm and went on till gone 1 am. The first piece was not to my taste at all with some self indulgent trombone soloing but the rest of the set mellowed into more melodic jazz funk.

There were two drummers who did an excellent extended duet or "conversation" was how Kamasi introduced it. The bass player, Miles Mosley, was particularly talented musician whose solo was a virtuoso display of musicianship.

At the end Kamasi took a selfie with the crowd, the moment captured by another photographer, and you can see Mary in the white cardi with me, blue jumper, and Kath next to us.

A unique evening of jazz in a wonderful setting.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prom 47 2016: Ulster Orchestra and Rafael Payare

Royal Albert Hall. Sunday 21-August-2016

Another Prom, another box for four plus one, a different set of friends and three more pieces of music. This time we didn't try to bring in a bottle of champagne and this time they didn't do a bag search so we could have got away with it! But we did bring in some nibbles to munch in the box and bought bottles of wine from the bar.

Cristina, Kate, Sheila, Mary

Review extracts from Dominic Lowe on BachTrack:
  • The concert opened with the world première of Belfast-based Piers Hellawell’s Wild Flow, a five-movement work around 20 minutes long; the key piece is its central slow movement, cocooned and contrasted by the surrounding four. Hellawell’s writing creates a soundscape of stalagmites: sharp and initially independent of each other with no natural growth and development. Easily the most striking thing about the piece is its percussion, exceptionally well-played here [...] This is a piece worth hearing again.
  • Narek Hakhnazaryan, a BBC New Generation Artist, took to the stage for Haydn’s Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major, that masterpiece composed for Joseph Franz Weigl in the early 1760s which was lost for centuries. [...] The cellist’s approach was individual enough to risk division; he showed technical ability that was a delight to watch, but his approach was rather less classical than the orchestra’s which brought moments of conflict, particularly in the Allegro. He encored with Sollima’s Lamentatio, a signature piece of his which calls a raw cry from the cellist as well as rapid, extremely deft bowing.
  • Payare opted for a strong final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 in E minor. The conductor has apparently played the horn solo himself during his time as a player. His intimate knowledge of the work was visible, not just from his conducting of the symphony from memory, but from the multi-faceted, textured account he drew from the orchestra. [...] Payare throughout was an energetic influence on the pit, and the Ulster Orchestra responded with technically brilliant playing. Belfast is lucky to still have this talented group.
  • Full review ...
We all agreed the Hellawell was not entirely to our taste but we loved the Hayden and the Tchaikovsky. As it was still early, being an afternoon concert, we went a quick drink with Kate afterwards at the nearby Queens Arms and then home for supper.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cleaning The Wandle August 2016

King George's Park. Wandsworth. Sunday 14-August-2016.

A half day of volunteering as we had friends round for Sunday lunch. Not that this was a problem as we have been in this stretch several times over the last few years and there wasn't so much rubbish. In fact this is an annual event: January 2012, April 2013, October 2014, I must have missed 2015, and now this year.

New yellow gloves. Hurrah! Some of the old ones were getting a bit tatty. And some new litter pickers.

In the water the level was really high despite recent good weather. The reason, apparently, is that most of the water comes not from the springs at the source of the river but Beddington Sewage Treatment Works. Thank goodness for EU urban waste water directive which means it's OK to go in the river..

Back in January 2012 we hauled out 14 shopping trolleys. Thanks to the annual visits there was a lot less hardware and more general litter; the lunchtime haul:

Given the good turnout and the level of rubbish I left at half time with a clear conscience.

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Prom 35 2016: Bartok, Malcolm Hayes and Dvorak

Royal Albert Hall, London. Thursday, 11-August-2016.

The first of only two trips to the Proms this year. Both in tier 2 boxes which seat 4 plus 1. Our friends Christine and Paul joined us for this their first ever Proms concert.

Since one cannot take photos of the performance - indeed, one should be listening to the music - I took a shot of the auditorium; a wonderful Grade I listed edifice.

I enjoyed the Bartok, the Violin Concerto by Malcolm Hayes was very atmospheric in a film soundtrack kind of way, and you can't go wrong with Dvorak.

Extracts from review by David Truelove on BachTrack:
  • This Prom opened with Bartók’s Dance Suite which, despite the indifference shown at its 1923 première, is one of his most colourful works, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of uniting the cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda into Budapest. Its folk-derived material (Arab, Hungarian and Romanian influences) gives rhythmic and melodic impetus to its six movements that also have harmonic echoes of Debussy.
  • Inspiration of a different kind fuelled the Violin Concerto by Malcolm Hayes that followed. [...]. While casting aside the conventional combative relationship between orchestra and soloist, it presents an intriguing single-movement soundscape (evoking the endless skies of Harris) with traces of more traditional concerto models – Beethoven, Sibelius and Vaughan Williams readily spring to mind. [...]  Playing from an iPad, soloist Tai Murray (a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist) gave a persuasive rendition, bringing to its near-ceaseless flow a real sense of commitment, poise and flawless intonation
  • Dvořák’s Symphony no. 7 in D minor [...] This account, on Thursday, was admirable in many ways – not least in the momentum achieved in the opening Allegro maestoso and the drama initiating the reprise. Variety of pace and dynamic contributed much to a nuanced slow movement; its ebb and flow were nicely caught. Dvořák’s melodic charm found outlet in a well-judged Scherzo and in the Finale, Søndergård sustained a tight control over its stormy narrative through to its defiantly major key close. 
  • Full review...

We normally take in something to eat and drink in the interval but this time they did a bag search and made us check our champagne into the cloakroom. So we decided to have a post-concert drink thanks to the cool bag and our plastic picnic glasses.

All in all wonderful evening.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Alexander McKay, Lucy Zirins, Will Shackleton Band at The Green Note

Camden, London. Wednesday 08-August-2016.

Once again The Green Note provides quality music at a bargain basement price. Seriously, £8 for three excellent acts. The venue is so small you are literally only feet away from the performers. The stage is tiny; it is amazing how much kit they cram onto a postage stamp sized stage. Being so close make the whole experience of live music very special.

I am not one for detailed reviews but there is an excellent, in-depth review by Plunger Music: An evening to leave you grinning like an idiot (via Lucy Zirins) so I shall quote liberally from that.

First up was Alexander McKay who did a fine set of his own compositions.

Plunger: "Alexander McKay’s solo acoustic set combined Young-style harp-and-finger-picking in Moving On with Close To The Edge’s hazy, trippy vibe and dark Southern-shoegaze-meets-R&B-ballad in Another Man..."

The second act was the charming Lucy Zirins who seemed somewhat in awe of the size of the audience - little does she know this is a small audience. She is from Burnley, Lancashire with an accent to match and yet when she sings you are suddenly transported to Tennessee.

Plunger: "Lucy Zirins is always entrancing: from her clear limpid vocal on the loping Laurel Canyon folk of What’s In Front Of Me to the impassioned but defiant country blues waltz of Tearing Me Down while the airy americana of Falling To Pieces displayed an ethereal tremulous-yet-strong vocal and The Fall conjured a laid-back Ronstadt vibe."

And here is a live recording of my favourite track from this very show:

The third set in the excellent trilogy of acts was the Will Shackleton Band.

Plunger: "... a set mixing sophisticated West Coast Jackson Browneisms with relaxed country and even a Steely Dan-meets-Dr.-Hook wry look at Anglo-Italian romance..."

Definitely an evening to leave you grinning.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Ninth Annual BBQ and Drink Our Excess Cellar

And the first in our new home. This event started off ten years ago to drink up our burgundy that was ageing prematurely and would go down the sink if we did not drink up soon!

Now that is all gone, the wine is fine, but still more in the cellar than we can drink alone. So first up was a trip to the rented wine storage to collect wine for this year's event.

We set up the gazebos on the green out the front with all the tables and chairs dragged out as well.

The new quick lighting bags of charcoal are a bit over-entheusiastic.

This gives you a good view of the Victorian terrace that was described in the old censuses as "officers quarters" - accommodation for the prison guards.

This year we hired a couple of burger flippers and general helpers called Max and Maddy who did a great job allowing Mary and I to talk to our guests. In fact so busy talking that I forgot to take any pictures until the event was starting to wind down and only the hard core guests were left.

The combination of Mary's peach up-side down cake and my ice-creams proved a winner.

A smaller turnout than previous years meant we only got through 30 bottles of wine.

As usual we will be dining on leftovers for few days (apart from what goes in the freezer) but that is not a problem as it was all delicious.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cleaning the Wandle July 2016

Wimbledon. Sunday 10-July-2016

A lovely day to go paddling in the River Wandle. Very early on I found a duvet and a complete bed base. The latter was a bit of a bugger to get out as it was well buried in the silt. Lots of teamwork and heaving and grunting eventually got it out. Shortly after I found the mini-trampoline you can see behind it.

Unfortunately I managed to puncture my waders on the bed-springs and ended up with some very soggy jeans. Fortunately I have a spare repair patch kindly given to me by Polly the organiser.

There was the obligatory bicycle, but only one this time.

Meanwhile further downstream the others found a washing machine. At this point the concrete channel is a couple of metres high so more teamwork was required to grapple the beast up onto the bank.


And this is why we do it. A couple of tons of rubbish cleaned out of the river.

It is a great way to spend a lovely Sunday. Most satisfying!

Wandle Trust logo
The Wandle Trust is an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of the River Wandle and its catchment. They hold community river cleanups on the second Sunday of every month, up and down this unique urban chalkstream – pulling out everything from shopping trolleys to shotguns, and improving the environment for birds, fish, insects and local people. For more visit:

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Keb Mo at Union Chapel 2016

Islington, London. Tuesday 05-July-2016.

This concert pushes Keb up into third place as the artist we have seen most often (behind Marcus Bonfanti and Van Morrison). We first saw him in New Orleans at the Jazz Fest in 1998 and again there on one of our subsequent visits to NOLA.

The third time we saw him he was supporting BB King at the BIC. We were wearing our Keb Mo T-shirts and at the interval people came up to us and said 'He's brilliant" and asking "Which album should we buy?"

Then we saw him two years ago also at the Union Chapel. On that occasion we bumped into Pete and Amanda so we know they'd be up for a repeat performance. We also persuaded our friend Barbara to come along as well. As last time, we went for a meal at Tierra Peru beforehand and then joined the long queue for doors open at 6:30.

It is unreserved seating and last time we were up in the balcony. This time, despite the long queue in front of us, we got second row seats in the stalls. Bit off to the side but still pretty good. No support this time, straight into the main act so we got a good long set.

Since we have six of his CD's we knew pretty much all the songs which added greatly to the enjoyment.  A cracking concert. Mary and I went for a quick beer afterwards in The Famous Cock Tavern to round off the evening.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Alice Cooper at The O2

The O2 Arena, London. Saturday 18-June-2016.

The Stone Free Festival was an opportunity to see the legendary Alice Cooper.

The first act Blackberry Smoke impressed. They are an American Southern rock/country rock band from Atlanta, Georgia.

Apocalytica were my first encounter with Cello Metal - who knew that was a thing? File under "Hmmm. Interesting".

The Darkness were OK-ish. Not Mary's thing so she went out for that set.

Finally the act I suspect was the real reason many were there - Alice Cooper. He kicked off with "No More Mr Nice Guy",  always one of my favourites.

The Evening Standard wrote: "Cooper’s tightly drilled, heroically daft pantomime was in fine fettle, despite the 68-year-old’s reduced mobility and absence of patter. As if it were 1972 (the whole point of Stone Free), there were explosions; the traditional live snake on Is it My Body; the guillotine ritual on the Killer/I Love the Dead medley which, not entirely unpredictably, ended with Cooper being resurrected by the love of a lascivious woman; a 20ft monster on Feed My Frankenstein and two fake Kennedys having a fake brawl during the closing Elected." Full review...

I think "heroically daft pantomime" describes it perfectly.

Louder Than War’s Sophie Sparham wrote: "The band’s encore consisted of a series of tributes to fallen rock stars such as Keith Moon, Hendrix, Lemmy and Bowie. It was great to see such a legend paying tribute to musicians that have passed and revved the crowd up for ‘Eighteen’ and ‘Schools Out’, which he sang accompanied by bubbles that came out from the side of the stage." Full review and pictures...

The tributes were great rock and roll songs and very touching all at the same time.

So that's another act ticked off the bucket list :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tom Jones at Hampton Court Palace

Thursday 16-June-2016.

An excellent concert as you might expect from Jones "the Voice". A few of the greatest hits and others lesser known numbers all delivered with expert musicianship. The crowd seemed to be mostly made up of the faithful followers. There were a couple of pairs of knickers thrown on the stage but I believe that is more of a tradition these days.

John Clark of 'The i' wrote: "... any fears that this was to be a sombre affair were blown away by a set based mainly around tracks from the recent trilogy of albums (Praise & Blame, Spirit In The Room and Long Lost Suitcase) in which he revisited his blues, gospel and country musical roots and influences. [...] The voice from the valleys was as powerful as ever and the whole evening had a contemporary feel rather than being a tired collection of past successes." Full review...

We had planned a picnic in the grounds but the heavens opened so we picniced on the dining room table then headed off. Tom came on just after 9pm and played for nearly two hours, they clearly have an immovable 11pm curfew. He sang the expected hits, Delilah, It's Not unusual, Green Green Grass, Sex Bomb and Kiss (my favourite), interspersed with other songs I didn't know but all excellent.

Top evening.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chicago 2016 - Statues

Chicago, Illinois, USA. 12/13-June-2016.

As well as the Blues Festival we also used our time to see some of Chicago's statues:
"Downtown Chicago is home to more than 100 sculptures, mosaics, and paintings placed in plazas, lobbies, and on the Riverwalk. The dedication of the huge sculpture by Pablo Picasso in 1967 confirmed that Chicago was a city for the arts. Since then, major works by Alexander Calder, Sir Anthony Caro, Sol LeWitt, Richard Hunt, and Ellen Lanyon, among others, have been added to this free open-air museum." The Chicago Public Art Guide
The tourist information office had relocated from the Chicago Cultural Centre to Macy's where the guy behind the desk printed us a list of major public art works. We used that to spend a couple of mornings wandering round downtown Chicago finding and ticking statues off our list, we managed a fair few.

In alphabetic order:

Alexander Calder - Flamingo

A spectacular piece of curves and sharp angles put me in mind of feathers and beaks.

Alexander Calder - Flying Dragon

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (1)

A major selfie opportunity for almost everyone there.

Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate (2)

Looking up and seeing the distorted reflections is really disorienting, it made me giddy.

David Smith - Cubi VII

Edward Kemeys - Lions

Frank Gehry - Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Hector Guimard - Paris Metro Entryway

Henry Moore - Large Interior Form

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (1)

This fountain is a fun piece with the changing back projections.

Jaume Plensa - The Crown Fountain (2)

The first time we saw it was a really hot day and all the children were having so much fun splashing around under the waterfall and in the pool.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (1)

I like the way you can walk into and through this one like an old castle or standing stones.

Jean Dubuffet - Monument with Standing Beast (2)

Jerald Jacquard - Space Junction of Energy

We only noticed this as we were leaving for the airport, directly across from our hotel by Belmont station.

Joan Miro - Miro's Chicago

Louise Nevelson - Dawn Shadows

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (1)

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons (2)

Pablo Picasso - Untitled

This is credited as the piece that started the whole public statues thing in Chicago. It even gets a mention in The Blues Brothers:
Elwood: This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive! If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza!
Jake: That's where they got that Picasso.
Elwood: Yep.
Richard Hunt - We Will

Richard Lippold - Radiant 1

Sol LeWitt - Lines in Four Directions

Took us a while to spot this one: not just a statue but the whole side of a building.

If we ever go back there are plenty more on the list we still have yet to see...