Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Hairy Bikers at G Live

Guildford. Thursday 21-March-2019

An Evening With the Hairy Bikers provided pretty much what you would expect. Si and Dave on stage chatting away regaling us with anecdotes from their career. Assorted video clips of their early days, misadventures and outtakes. A cookery demonstration, of course, with two guinea pigs selected from the audience as on-stage diners. Then a break and the same thing all over again.

There were also questions from the audience. Some of these were clearly the usual suspects as they had clips ready to roll to answer them. Others seemed novel and evoked some of the funnier stories. The evening finished with a song featuring Si surprisingly good on drums and a guest bass player.

The train back to Clapham was relatively painless but even so I might try driving next time

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

George Ezra at the O2 Arena

London. Tuesday 19-March-2019.

George seems like a jolly nice chap. I like an artist who comes across as being glad to be there and appreciative of the response from the audience.

We were not able to get two seats together and so bought separate seats in adjacent blocks quite some way back, such is the size of the venue and the popularity of the artist. I sat in someone else's seat, next to Mary, until they showed up and then moved a couple of rows back to a "no show" seat so that worked out ok.

The excellent support act was Sigrid who did an energetic and enjoyable set as she bounced about the stage. Then George came on and did a fair bit of chat introducing each song which I always enjoy. He sang all the hits from both his albums. As we have his first but not his second we only knew some of the songs but enjoyed even the unknowns.

The modern equivalent of holding up your lighters is waving your smartphone torchlight, an impressive sight with so many; read about the origins of this custom.

The show was well designed for a large venue with the big screens and a visual, animated backdrop for the stage. The sound quality was good - not always the case in a big venue. Now all the O2 Arena has to do is sort out the very limited air-side catering and hiked-up drinks prices!

All in all a fine show.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Benson Row - The First Week

Penrith, Cumbria. Monday 11-March-2019 to Tuesday 19-March-2019.

The latest acquisition in the M&M Enterprises property portfolio is a holiday home in Penrith on the edge of the Lake District. Mary has been saying she needs a project to keep her busy and stop her from getting bored. This is that project.

When we sold Trullo Azzurro last year we started by looking for another property in Italy. Somewhere in, or on the fringes, of Cisternino old town. Somewhere without stairs for when we get old and our knees are going. We also wanted some outside space. This was proving impossible even ignoring the budget. There just aren’t many properties that fit the bill, if at all, never mind on the market.

So instead we repatriated the money and started looking in Penrith which we know and like. When we found this property last October, we made an offer which was accepted but kept it quiet from most of our friends as we expected a certain amount of stick from them. We broke the news to family and a few close friends shortly before completion which was then, of course, delayed.

It is a three bedroomed house with a decent size cellar but no outside space at all. We have right of access across the courtyard to get to our back door but that is it. It is an early Victorian mid-terrace house that was once two back-to-back houses, now combined into one. It is the one with the burgundy window and door surrounds. The middle door is an alleyway to a small yard.

The plan is to use it initially for ourselves, family and friends but eventually (especially after the kitchen refit) to put it on AirBnB for others to rent.

Floor plan

Living Room

Dining Room

Kitchen. This is a major component of the project: a complete kitchen redesign. We have two local firms currently producing designs for us to review.

Back Bedroom

Middle Bedroom

Front Bedroom



We finally completed on Monday the 11th March. We drove up that morning with the car stuffed to the gunnels including two single bed frames strapped to the roof and two vacuum packed, Swiss roll mattresses in the car along with all manner of other stuff. The first thing we did on receiving the keys was to assemble the beds release the mattresses and go down to the pub for a beer and meal with our Penrith friends.

Tuesday was delivery day for a whole load of bedroom furniture that we had bought from Barker and Stonehouse in the January sales. They were very good at holding back on delivery until we had access to the property. So Tuesday was literally a case of making my bed and then lying on it.

Wednesday was spent assembling the rest of the bedroom furniture: two wardrobes, two chest of drawers and a bedside cabinet. Fortunately I have had plenty of practice with IKEA furniture and a decent power screwdriver made the whole thing relatively painless although still tedious.

The rest of the week and weekend was more shopping for furniture and useful items like a fridge and microwave, a Dyson and various kitchen bits and pieces. Also visits from various trades to get quotes for works identified by the surveyor most of which it turned out were not needed!

  • The builder reckoned the damp was condensation and the damp specialist confirmed that. 
  • The roofer said the felt we could see was a sign the roof had actually been repaired and no work was required. 
  • The timber treatment man said the colour of the soft timbers showed it had been treated and the rest was solid oak which woodworm blunt their teeth on. 

And what timbers they are too. Magnificent, gnarly bits of old oak. Not neatly sawn, they just have to be recycled timbers from some older building, the Victorians would never have been that cavalier with their roof timbers. Another clue to recycling rather than purpose-sawn was one rafter that didn't reach the ridge and was held up by an oak prop.

Saturday was Penrith Parkrun, more shopping and then in the evening a dinner party at a friends' house. Andrew makes delicious home-made limoncello and arancello which we sampled possibly more than was strictly necessary!

Monday was, joy of joys, a trip to Gateshead IKEA to choose and buy furniture for the other two bedrooms. IKEA should patent their special time dilation secret they clearly have whereby it seems hundreds of years pass inside the store and you come out to discover that only a couple of hours have elapsed in the real world.

Tuesday we drove back to London for a quick turnaround and then out to see George Ezra to recover from an action packed and productive week.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dave Robinson, The Story of Stiff Records at The Half Moon

Putney. Sunday 10-March-2019.

Back in 2017 we really enjoyed the talk and Q'n'A session with Bruce Iglauer, founder of Alligator Records so when we saw "Dave Robinson, The Story of Stiff Records - If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A F...k" advertised we just had to go along.

For the first half Dave gave us an insight into his biography pre-Stiff records as a photographer and how he got into the music business. Then followed a series of tales of the artists he signed, how he found them and video clips of them performing. For a small independent label the calibre of artists is truly impressive including Elvis Costello, The Damned, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Lena Lovich, Madness, the list goes on...

What came across very strongly was the ethos of the company, of looking after the artists, unlike the big labels. It was a family affair; they made a real effort to promote all of the bands and look after their welfare.

After the break it was more stories including how he promoted the bands using The Stiff Tours and then taking questions from the audience. He let us know that he is working on a book which will doubtless be worth adding to the Christmas list when it comes out.

This was the first of a proposed series of Eight O'Clock Rock Chats to be hosted by The Half Moon. Ones to watch out for.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Arturo Sandoval at Ronnie Scotts

Soho, London. Thursday 07-March-2019.

Packing in visits to Ronnie's while we were in the UK. This time, as it is a weekday, we got a support act as well as the main act.

The support act was the Kate Williams trio: Piano, bass and drums. They were fine but didn’t really excite. We have heard a number of similar trios and they’re all good and competent musicians playing jazz standards well but what makes one stand out from the other. I couldn’t put my finger on it but they did not really do it for me although the Guardian thinks otherwise: "Kate Williams is a very good jazz pianist anyway – crisp, incisive and totally at one with the rhythmic ebb and flow."

The drummer had the most minimal drum kit I have ever seen: A snare drum, bass drum, normal (crash?) cymbal and a hi-hat. I have realised that I am, for some reason, irredeemably biased against the wire brush approach to jazz. I tend to associate it with late night, easy listening jazz. Not that it’s lazy drumming, it goes back to the 1920's and clearly involves a lot of skill and technique but it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Arturo Sandoval and his Cuban band were superb. Arturo gave us a masterclass in trumpet playing and general band leading. The band were certainly high energy especially the drummer who was doing his best to resemble Animal from the Muppets.

At some point they played a tune which I eventually recognised as "The windmills of your mind". I only knew it as a novelty single from Noel Harrison (1968). I was surprised to learn that it has some heritage being written by prolific French composer Michel Legrand as the theme tune to The Thomas Crown Affair.

Another song which I recognised but could not have named until now was The Peanut Vendor which I had to look up on Wikipedia:
"Together with "Guantanamera", it is arguably the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. "The Peanut Vendor" has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78 rpm single of Cuban music." 
You live and learn.

I hadn’t fully appreciated how steam punk an instrument the saxophone is. All those levers and valves and certainly this band's sax was not a gleaming and polished example of the instrument. It looks straight out of some typically Steam Punk themed anachronistic Victoriana.

Another fine evening. Ronnie's never disappoints.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hotel at the Peacock Theatre

London. Thursday 28 February-2019.

A last minute decision to slip in an extra bit of culture at Sadler's Wells West End venue, The Peacock Theatre, Cirque Éloize performing a new production called Hotel.

Amanda Reynolds at LondonTheatre1 writes:
"The visually impressive Art Deco hotel full of chrome surroundings and bright lights is a great setting for this innovative show. Unlike other circus productions Hotel blends a mixture of dance, comedy, music and acrobatics to create a fresh take on the traditional circus. Although mostly aimed at adults, this production is well-suited to all ages and families will enjoy this unique show.
Overall, Cirque Éloize’s Hotel may not offer anything overwhelmingly shocking or new but what it does offer is a clever fusion of dance, acrobatics, circus skills and music to create something fresh. With an outstandingly talented cast, it is an entertaining show to sit back and enjoy whilst marvelling at the feats performed onstage." Full review...
Clever and entertaining. And Mary particulary liked the bit of business with a small carpet that they made act like a dog called "CarPet".

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Language Course in Rome 2019

Rome, Italy. Sunday 03-Feb-2016 / Tuesday 26-February-2019

Mary suggested I write this blog post in Italian but I don’t think my Italian is up to that level yet.

We did a three week language course in Rome. On the first Monday they gave us a short test to determine which class to put us all in. Mary was level B2, I was level A1, the beginners’ class. Not really a surprise as I have done little formal learning. I know plenty of nouns, a few verbs but mostly first person singular, present tense or the infinitive, and almost no grammar at all

So the beginners class introduced me to some basic fundamentals like how to do nouns and adjectives both male and female, singular and plural, how to conjugate regular verbs in the present tense and some of the more basic irregular verbs. All good building blocks to start to practice some Italian. I also booked myself three one-on-one conversation lessons with the teachers.

Now I’m back I need to revisit the course workbook, repeat the stuff we’ve already covered and do some of the other sections we skipped during the classes.

Classes were 9 till 12:30, Monday to Friday. That gave us plenty of time to play the tourist. The school organised a few events so we did a walking tour, a cookery class and a gastronomic walking tour.

The walking tour was billed as street art but it was a little more formal than that: an estate where they had decorated various blocks of flats as part of an impressive art project.

Sistine chapel meets Cherry blossom

Squids and whales

Very Alphonse Mucha

More than a hint of Magritte

Young girl

We also did a couple of self guided walkabouts.

Villa Borghese

Santa Maria Domenica

Piazza del Popolo

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you're seein' double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs

Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon panorama pt 1.

The Pantheon panorama pt 2.

We also took one of the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses. We have done a number of those in other cities and they are a very good way to get an overview of the city and to help orientate yourself.

The Roman Forum

Oh, the hours I've spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin' time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see 'em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb

Circus Maximus

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment less than 10 minutes walk from the school which was very convenient, chosen for that reason. We mostly ate out as the Airbnb apartment had basic cooking facilities. There are an amazing number of pizza joints, café‘s and casual dining establishments in the area. Also some very fine restaurants as well.  At Ba Ghetto we had a classic Romano-Jewish dish: carciofi alla giudia.

A wine first: Kosher chardonay from Galilee.

Rome has two Parkrun venues so we decided to play the Parkrun tourist. The most convenient was Parco Caffarella. We checked it out and the week before there had only been nine runners. We went along and was surprised to discover 60 people were there, most of them visiting Welsh supporters in Rome for the Italy v. Wales rugby match.

The finish line.

Later that day at the Italy v. Wales match. Italy lost 15-25: Match report from Sky Sports.

We decided to do the same Parkrun the following Saturday as the other Rome Parkrun was more awkward to get to. I have to say that it was a unique experience - it was the first park run I’ve done where we ran round a flock of sheep!

At the end of the three weeks we took the train down to Cisternino to check out the apartments and with the plan of signing on with the local GP. Generally renewing is easier than getting into the system for the first time and the idea was to do it before Brexit. As it turns out the annual fee just to be able to sign on was quite substantial so it will be better to pay for a private consultation as and when we need it.

After 16 degrees C in Rome it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Cisternino to -1 overnight and daytime highs in the low single digits.

We also made a surprise visit to the Salento Parkrun where Mary and I were the only participants that week so I was able to snag a first past the post! To say it is one man and his dog is the literal truth. Here is the course director, Saverio, and his dog Bea (the Beagle).

Mary coming in second place - the fastest woman and the fastest in her age range!

The results:

However it was not a wasted trip because we got to check out the apartments make sure everything was all okay and meet up with our friends for a very pleasant meal out and a chance for me to practice a little bit my basic Italian.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Bokanté at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Friday 01-February-2019.

Another visit to Ronnie's for another band we knew nothing about but the write-ups sounded interesting. And another surprise support act.

The support act was Vula Viel with the lead musician, Bex Burch, playing a giant wooden xylophone, I assume a Ghanaian instrument since she trained there. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself with a permanent smile on her face. Even when the xylophone fell off its stand she reassembled the kit and carried on. Very hypnotic and reminded me a little of Balinese Gamelan.

Vinyl duly purchased from the front desk.

The main stage got pretty busy when the main act came on with, in effect, two groups on the stage at the same time. Fortunately not the full Metropole Orkest.

Neil Spence in the Guardian writes: World music Bokanté and Metropole Orkest: What Heat review - righteous and clever:
There is commendable ambition and skill behind this collaboration between Bokanté, the self-styled “super group” founded by Michael League of the New York jazz-funk outfit Snarky Puppy, and the renowned Dutch big band Metropole Orkest (active since 1945). [...] For this second album, League has added cinematic heft to Bokanté’s melange of Caribbean, Middle Eastern and jazz influences, helped by the arrangements of the Orkest’s Jules Buckley. Full review...

As always the acid test is do we rush to buy the CD. And we did.

Both acts had a definite world music vibe with and Bokante's lead singer, Malika Tivolien, from Guadalupe and Vula Viel's lead having trained in Ghana. An interesting and enjoyable evening.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Tina the Musical

Aldwych Theatre, London. Thursday 31-January-2019.

Supper beforehand at Roka, Aldwych. The food was excellent and they do a deal - 2 courses and a glass of bubbles for £26 per person. Also conveniently very close to the theatre.

The show was a straightforward, linear biography stuffed full of the greatest hits. The lead singer was the outrageously talented and gorgeous Adrienne Warren.

Michael Billington at The Guardian writes: Phyllida Lloyd’s musical is a heady celebration of triumph over adversity, with an astonishing turn by Adrienne Warren.
"But the show rests on the shoulders of Warren, who is rarely off stage and who is simply astonishing. Above all, she captures the fact there is not one Tina Turner but several. Warren shows how Tina develops and changes as a singer and how, in moving to rock stardom, she retains her ferocious energy while introducing occasional notes of plangent melancholy. Warren also conveys Tina’s growth from stoical victim of Ike’s cruelty into a woman of defiant confidence. On top of all that, she dances up a storm in a way that had the audience on its feet even before the curtain call. [...] As bio-musicals go, this is as good as it gets." Full review...

A special mention should also go to the very talented girl who plays the young Tina and sings several songs with great power.

A fantastic evening out.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Burns Supper 2019

Irvine, Scotland. Friday 25-January-2019.

Being married to a Scot I have of course had haggis, neeps and tatties many times. I’ve even been to a number of Burns suppers in London where they have a piper and a reading of the “address to a haggis”. But I’ve never been to a full-blown Scottish Burns celebration.

We were going up to Scotland to visit Mary‘s mum over the weekend of the 25th of January. So Mary tracked down a Burns supper which turned out to be the Irving Burns Club 193rd Burns celebration. That’s an impressive piece of continuity and history.

According to Visit Scotland (and they should know) each Burns supper is individual, but the running order normally goes something like this:
  1. To start – everyone gathers, the host says a few words, everyone sits and the Selkirk Grace is said.
  2. The meal – the starter is served, the haggis is piped in, the host performs Address to a Haggis, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert.
  3. After the meal – the first Burns recital is performed, the Immortal Memory (the main tribute speech to Burns) is given, the second Burns recital is performed, then there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, before the final Burns recital is performed.
  4. To end the night – the host gives a vote of thanks, everyone stands and sings Auld Lang Syne, crossing their arms and joining hands at the line ‘And there's a hand, my trusty fere!’.
A more extensive and somewhat droll description is available on the BBC website.

When we arrived all the great and the good of Irvine were there, the movers and shakers, the Provost (Mayor) and local dignitaries.

Before supper we had readings of Rabbie‘s poems by various local school children. It might as well have been in Klingon or Serbo-Croat for all that I could make sense of it. It was definitely a foreign language as far as I’m concerned.

Mary's Mum (with stick), Mary (in tartan scarf)

The meal was much as expected: soup, haggis neeps and tatties, roast beef and pudding. Afterwards we started with “the immortal memory” and various toasts, "please be upstanding..." for this and that. Poor old Mary‘s mum was up and down like a yo-yo. We tried to persuade her to sit them out but as we were right in front of the top table so it would’ve been a bit obvious. Apparently the next day her knees were aching.

Much to my disappointment we didn’t get the usual address to the lasses and the lasses response. Apparently they are traditionally humorous much along the lines of a best man speech. Instead we got various orations and then some Scottish folk music. And I learnt a new (old) meaning of the word Croupier: 2. HISTORICAL the assistant chairman at a public dinner, seated at the lower end of the table.

We mostly drank red wine but I had to have one nip of whisky which is, I understand, traditional. The Provost came round with a large bottle of whisky and insisted on pouring me a hefty top up. It would’ve been churlish to refuse.

So that was nice!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Great British Rock & Blues Festival 2019

Butlins, Skegness. Friday 18-January-2019 to Sunday 20-January-2019.

Our third time at this festival. I cannot give you an act-by-act review as I cannot find the timetable online so I will summarise with the acts we deemed good enough to rush to the front and buy a CD at the end of the set:
  • Dave Speight
  • The Della Grants
  • Jack Broadbent
  • The Stumble
  • Martin Harley
There are loads of excellent photos on the FaceBook group Butlins Rock & Blues Festivals Skegness. I give you my crappy iPhone photos because they are my memory joggers.

There is a good review over at Get Ready To Rock: GREAT BRITISH ROCK & BLUES FESTIVAL – Butlins, Skegness, 18 – 20 January 2019 with more pictures and a different list of bands. Inevitable given the wide ranges of choices over four stage.

Friday 18-January-2019.

Sure enough the weather lived up to Skeggie's reputation with temperatures only just above zero.

Last year, when we booked, we asked for accommodation closer to the venues. I swear they put us in a block further away. It matters when you are a hot house flower like me and the wind-chilled walk to and from the music chills you to the marrow.

Off to the music. Jack Broadbent was excellent.

And the evening went on with many fine acts...

Saturday 19-January-2019.

The "Introducing Stage" showcases up-and-coming acts who you can vote for and the winners get a main stage slot at next year's festival. After a couple of bands at lunchtime, the evening started with some Introducing stage sets, then an early supper and off the Reds stage for The Della Grants.

I popped over to Centre stage for a couple of songs from Clearwater Creedance (sic) Revival. Tribute band and excellent covers of CCR finishing up with a rousing version of Proud Mary.

Back at Reds for Martin Barre's Jethro Tull. He played guitar with Jethro Tull from their second album in 1969 to the band's initial dissolution in 2012. [Wikipedia].

Martin raised the question, "When is a band not a tribute band?" With personnel changes over the years he is the only original member left. But at least there was one so he opined that it was OK. Using that criteria Dr Feelgood are a cover band not the original.

Dave Speight. Now this is full-on Delta Blues, rocking chair on the porch, woke up this morning, kind of blues. He's been playing his own, self taught versions of the classics for 50 years. My sort of blues.

Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo. Record producer turned performer. The list of acts he has produced is impressive. Now he has stepped out from behind the console to entertain us and his experience shows.

Sugaray Rayford. Energetic entertainer.

Sunday 20-January-2019.

The day started in a chilly Jaks stage. Sadly the worst stage of the lot for a favourite artist of ours, Lucy Zirins. The acoustics are poor and the layout is not conducive to a cosy, intimate atmosphere. Still Lucy was the real trooper and delivered a good full hour's set.

Lucy had pre-release copies of her latest album "Unfound" so we bought two, one for us and one for our friend Delton. Lucy patiently recorded a little message for Delton and I posted off his CD as a surprise gift.

Due to a terrible timetabling clash Lucy was on at exactly time as Martin Harley who we had seen at Ronnie Scott's supporting Lucky Peterson. We were pleased to see that he was on the line-up here so Mary went to see Martin and I went to see Lucy.

General view of the Reds stage which paradoxically was hosting the Blues acts.

Storm Warning. The day continues.

Nine Below Zero.

Grainne Duffy

Dr Feelgood, headlining again.

All good stuff.