Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pasqua in Puglia 2015

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Sunday 30-March-2015

A good trip to open up for the season with several highlights. The first was the weather which exceeded the forecast pretty much every day. We were able to drag the mattresses out into the courtyard for their spring toasting to drive off the winter damp.

We are switching from umbrellas to a shade sail on the advice of our local agent. Parasols generally do not last as long and fall over in the wind. A quality shade sail lasts longer, provides higher UV protection and covers a larger area. We avoided the Ikea sails and went for a high quality Australian make called Kookaburra.

My top priority on this visit was to drill holes and install eyebolts to take the fittings; two are static (with tension adjusters) and the third has a pulley for raising and lowering. All went remarkably smoothly and we now have cover for lunch in the courtyard. We will retain at least one parasol for the courtyard round the back but I expect the sail to be the main protection from the sun.


Back in Cisternino old town the alleys are too narrow for vehicles of any size and especially for a dustcart (aka garbage truck). Instead of weekly rubbish collection you leave a plastic carrier bag out every night for daily collection. These little vehicles navigate the cobbled streets every day collecting the bags from people's doorsteps.


In our apartment the large white wall has been crying out for a painting. Last year we looked at paintings by local artist Patrizia Pareo who, coincidentally, has her studio directly across from our apartment. We didn't feel able to afford the one we wanted then but this time we upped the budget and bought "Bianco nello spazio".

It must be one of Patrizia favourites as she used it on the cover of her catalogue. And now it's our favourite too. It looks splendid on our wall and is the perfect finishing touch to the apartment.


It was a quite the cultural visit. we went to book at table at Osteria la Valle. At eight o'clock they hadn't event started laying the tables so we went to Bar TrentaDue for a drink for an hour. There was a band setting up and doing a sound check. So after our meal we went back to listen to the band. The bar was heaving with trendy cool dudes. The first set finished at midnight. I was deemed an old fogey for wanting to go home to bed so we stayed for the second set and staggered home some time after one am.


We had hired a large estate car so we could go shopping to patio furniture for the terrace. After visits to Ikea, Conforama, and "our man in the country" we ended up back at Conforama and bought a table and L-shaped sofa.


It only just fitted in the boot with a bit of shoving and is now up on the roof ready for some serious relaxing next trip.

Trullo Azzurro logoTrullo Azzurro: beautifully restored trullo in delightful, secluded valley near Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Available to rent on a per week basis, sleeps 8-10. For more information visit http://www.homeaway.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Peaches - a celebration

Cats Protection, Haywards Heath 14-Feb-2010 to Wandsworth 19-Feb-2015

This is Blue and Peaches the very first time was met them at the Cats Protection National Cat Centre in Haywards Heath. We had gone to view kittens but did a last minute swerve to the pen next door where we were told Blue and Peaches were 12 and 14 respectively.

When we decided to adopt two older cats the deal was to give them a peaceful retirement knowing we would not have them as long as kittens. We were resolved from the start that when their time came there would be no heroic measures to prolong their lives unnecessarily. As long as they were happy and comfortable it was quality of life that counted.


When we first took them home they hid in dark corners and cupboards for the best part of a week. It was another week before we let them out into the garden. The picture below is Peaches' first exploration of the garden. It has to be said the she was never much of a one for going out. She could work the cat flap but, like most cats, preferred her humans to open the door for her.


Every cat is different. Peaches was never a lap cat. She was incredibly timid at first and we are quite convinced she had been mistreated in a previous life; for the first couple of years she flinched when you put your hand out to stroke her and would scurry away.

All our friends remarked how much less timid she became as she relaxed and got used to her safe new home.  We learned to approach her slowly from the front so as to not startle her and let her sniff your hand to get used to you.

Although she was not overtly friendly the moment we walked into the room she would start purring, a really deep rumble, like a furry diesel engine. The closest she ever came to us voluntarily was sitting on the back of the sofa however she was very happy to be picked up.

Being an elderly cat she didn't hunt, she didn't jump into cardboard boxes, she treated cat toys with indifference. What she did do was what cats do best - sleep and eat.

What she also did not do was meow, she was a completely silent cat. Well almost: once I accidentally trod on her tail and she yelped; once in the middle of the night she made a wailing noise (I suspect intruder fox). But that was it - in five years, never a squawk or shout or a chirrup.


Cats have favourite sleeping places: back of the sofa, under the breakfast table, on the dining room chairs and of course on the stairs where Peaches was a regular health and safety hazard.


Occasionally Peaches would get creative. She mostly ignored her pillow but a nice warm basket of laundry made a more than acceptable alternative. Classic cat!


Peaches was hard to photograph because she always looked down. She never looked at the camera, always at the floor. This is one of my all time favourite pictures of Peaches. Not staged, we had set the table for supper and up she jumped as if to say "Where's my food?"


The end, when it came, was not too protracted. An infection lead to a several night stay at the animal hospital and further tests which revealed cancer of the liver (and possibly lungs). She had lost weight, was not eating and was having to be fed by tube.

We brought her home for one night and Mary, having been away on business, was able to give Peaches one last cuddle. The decision to have her put to sleep was clear and unanimous. We woke the duty vet up early the next morning and drove her straight over. We both were present and stroking her at the end.

We had her cremated and still have her ashes which we will plant under the rose where Cleo's ashes were also buried.

I feel happy that we have kept our side of the bargain with Peaches and she in return provided us with her own unique feline company for five years and five days.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Who Hits 50 at The O2

Monday 23-March-2015

This will be the third time I have seen The Who. Last time was in 1996 in Hyde Park when they played the whole of Quadraphenia. The first time was in 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival when they played the whole of Tommy! I still have the original vinyl double gatefold album with the price sticker 85/- That is 85 shillings or four and a quarter of your English pounds.


This concert was the rescheduled from last year due to Roger Daltry's voice problems. Here he was on good form as he belted out the greatest hits for two and a quarter hours - not bad for a 71-year old. Pete Townsend was also irrepressible and very sweary. They did their signature moves - microphone swinging and arm windmilling respectively.

We went for the "Hot ticket package" so we had better seats, closer to the stage, worth it especially as I will probably never see them again. We also got "merchandising" - a Mod-style backpack, official souvenir brochure and laminate plus lanyard.

The Evening Standard writes: "[...] as you might expect from men of their vintage, things were a little flabby around the middle. By Townshend’s own admission, a lacklustre Slip Kid “sounded better in the sound check” while A Quick One, While He’s Away was The Who in self-parody. Thankfully, the frenetic strumming of Pinball Wizard jolted things back into life. When this was followed by the evergreen Won’t Get Fooled Again, a triumphant show was given its crowning moment. Townshend has suggested this will be the band’s final tour; if that’s the case, they’re going out on a high." Full review...

I would second that. The concert delivered exactly what it said on the tin: all the iconic hits including My Generation - how ironic to hear a pensioner sing "I hope I die before I get old". Unfortunately Mary had to leave at 10pm to get up to Stansted so I watched the last 40 mins on my own. That last segment included an excellent medley of tracks from Tommy. Superb!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dr John at Ronnie Scott's

Saturday 14-March-2105

Another outing to Ronnie Scott's to see the legendary Dr. John. Last time we saw him was at the small venue that is Under the Bridge. This time it is the smaller and more intimate Ronnie Scott's and a chance to get a close up performance from the man.


As often with well known musicians the band are unknown, to me anyway, but excellent. I always assume that an artist of his calibre can pick and choose his sidesmen. I was particularly taken by the incongruity of the lady on the keyboards who dressed more like a schoolteacher rather than a rock goddess but then it's talent not fashion that counts here.

And before anyone accuses me of sexism I have been to see bands who dressed in grey suits and look more like accountants. I suppose I expect performers to be more flamboyant in dress code than the audience as a visual component of the entertainment.

I bought Dr John's debut album "Gris Gris" (1968) shortly after it came out and consequently it is one of those albums that is grooved into my brain. I'm happy to report that he sang "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" - part of the soundtrack of my life by the original artist. Epic.

London Jazz News writes: "There was a small standing ovation as Dr John made his short trip off the bandstand into the dark. No-one really expected an encore, and we didn’t get one. The performance was highly formulaic, certainly, but it was very well played and a great deal of fun." Full review...

Normally there are two shows on a Saturday but for Dr. John there was only one which meant a support act and a longer set from the main man which is good for us.

Time to eat starter and main course and relax with a glass or two. I like that Ronnie's keep the menu short and reasonably priced given they have a captive audience they have resisted the temptation to jack up the prices. So all in all makes it fair value.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dad's 90th Birthday Celebration

Reigate 14-March-2015

Dad's actual birthday is 10th March so this was the next available weekend option for a family gathering down at my sister and brother-in-law's. This is the most complete gathering of the McLellan-Hutchinson-Snape clan ever: Dad and Mum, their three children and partners, six grandsons, five of their partners and a second cousin.


Mum and Dad started from a very small family. When they married Dad was an only child, Mum had one unmarried brother, three of their parents had died before they married and what elderly cousins there were had been lost contact with. They were almost an Adam and Eve family. Fast forward 65 years and they have a veritable tribe and what a lovely lot they are. An epic photo.


A McLellan gathering always involves lots of conversation; there are at least six separate discussions going on here. We chatted, raised a glass of champagne to Dad, ate sandwiches and nibbles and then had a slice of lovely cake from Paul's Patisserie.


Then there was the opening of the presents and cards so Dad went away with a pile of goodies.  It being Mothering Sunday (in the UK) the next day we made sure we had a card and flowers for Mum as well.

I hope I live as long and as healthy as Dad.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cleaning the Wandle March 2015

Poulter Park, Sutton. Sunday 08-March-2015

The weather forecast was for temperatures in the range 5-8 deg C so I bundled up with thermal long Johns in expectation of a chilly wade in the water. As it turned out the water was only up to our knees and the Spring sun was blazing so in pretty short order I was roasting. It was a glorious Spring day.


Fairly early on we hit a major load of tyres; they were coming out of the river thick and fast.


As well as tyres we had the usual assortment of car parts and general rubbish. Plus several items of plate from some sports club. Someone thought it might be a snooker club. Whatever, some clueless burglar had obviously stolen a load of low value trophies realised they were not solid silver (Duh!) and dumped them.


Meanwhile the tyres kept on coming and coming. I switched to the less glamorous wheelbarrow duty because the in-water crew were pulling them out faster than the bank-side crew could haul them away to the rubbish collection point.


By the end there were around 200 tyres - this was illegal dumping on an industrial scale. A heroic effort by the Wandle Trust volunteers.

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: http://www.wandletrust.org/.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Arcadia at The New Victoria Theatre

Woking. Friday 27-February-2015

With FREE BEER!

Mary's very generous colleagues on a previous project gave her a theatre voucher as a leaving present. Spending it at West End prices and availability was a challenge but The New Victoria Theatre in Woking, where Mary works, was in the same theatre chain. So we booked seats to see what is often described as "Tom Stoppard's masterpiece".

I trained down to Woking to join Mary for an after work drink. The advantage of working for a brewery is that they have a free bar between 5 and 7 every evening! The selection is naturally limited but given that they are a global company there was still plenty of choice.

The foyer features a map of the world in beer:


After a quick beer we went for a bite to eat then on to the theatre - which was buried deep in a shopping and took some finding.

The play was fine and full of Stoppardian cultural pyrotechnics but you do have to pay attention:

BritishTheatre.Com (3 stars): "It is all fascinating and engaging material which, in other hands, might be as dry as dust, but Stoppard’s sparkling dialogue and deft, idiosyncratic characters enliven the whole affair. The elements fuse into theatrical alchemy – about as close to pure joy as it comes in modern writing." Full review...

I was lucky enough to have seen the original 1993 National Theatre production starring Felicity Kendall - a play which The Telegraph thinks may be "the greatest play of our age".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Howard Jones - Engage at indigo at The O2

London. Friday 20-February-2015

This is the second time of seeing Engage. Last time was at Shepherds Bush Empire as an unplanned last minute outing - Howard Jones 30th Celebration. I was so knocked out by it that when this performance was announced I snapped up two VIP tickets.

Mary was not interested in going, not really her kind of music, so our friend Nigel took the spare ticket. We met up beforehand for a quick bite and in for the VIP pre-concert show. Last time Howard did an acoustic set. This time he did just one song but he talked through his 'rig' - how he had set up his keyboard for various effects and then performed the song to illustrate the effects.


Many concerts I have been to all you can see are the glow worm screens of smart phones. I do take a few photos but spend most of the time attending to the concert.

When I saw Kate Bush she appealed to her audience to be there in the moment: "It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows. I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras. " A sentiment I can agree with.



Howard has taken the opposite approach of "If you can't beat them, join them." He commissioned an app so that the phone becomes part of the show. Images synced to the show are broadcast to all the phones in the audience. And if you are using the phone to watch images you are not using it to take photos or record the show.


The first half of the concert proper was a performance of Engage. It features a see-through screen on which various images are projected and you could still see the performers through the screen.


In general the images broadcast to the iPhones matched the projection on the screen.


I also have the DVD of Engage for which Howard went the crowdfunding route at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/howardjonesengage. Options included everything from a signed copy of the DVD, through a set of hand-written lyrics, to a day in the studio with Howard and even his actual Roland keyboard.


After the interval it was the greatest hits with all the songs we know and love.


Part of the deal with the VIP tickets was a free glass of sparkling wine in the "exclusive" after show party (that is me and 299 other VIP ticket holders). The big surprise was Howard popping to do short jam with an accompanying guitarist. He sang for about 20 minutes a fairly random medley some of which were suggested by the audience.


My suggestion to Howard would be to include a VIP mosh pit option. Last time I was on the floor and really close up which was a much more Engage-ing experience.

All-in-all well worth the VIP ticket price

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Jules and the Gamblers at The Bull's Head

Barnes, London. Friday 13-February-2013

My second time of seeing Jules and The Gamblers. Last time was at The Old Frizzle on Wimbledon Broadway. There I got the impression the set list was geared to background music for the drinkers; this time it was more like the Chicago Blues that they really wanted to play!

Jules plays the harp - he had a box full of them which he played with verve. The guy in the hat is a guest guitarist and the uber-cool guy in the shades in my brother-in-law, Pete. Not visible in this picture are drums and keyboard.


I met up early with sister Jane for a drink and a quick bite and a chat; friends Jane and Brock joined us later and then, after a nourishing supper of beer and chips, we made our way into the Jazz Room.

The Bull's Head is an excellent music venue, the room is small enough that you are close up to the band and can see everything. Jules & Co played two sets and at £9 that strikes me a mega-excellent value for some classic blues. Another grand night out.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cleaning the Wandle January 2015

Wimbledon 11-January-2015.

After missing a couple of clean-ups it was back into the water on a chilly January day just upstream from the last clean up in this stretch in 2013. This had a road bridge over the river so that meant lots of junk in the river as people can lob stuff over the railings.

We had a good number of bikes - it would seem that the yoof of South Wimbledon have nothing better to do than steal each other's bikes and toss them in the river.


Lunch included cheese scones and some very welcome hot tomato soup in the chilly conditions. I was glad I had the foresight to wear my walking thermal Long John's under my jeans but even so the toes were going numb by the end.

When I lived there in the '80s the land across the river was disused sewage works. It is now Wandle Meadow Nature Park and a great improvement it is too. To quote the Merton website:

"A site with a wealth of plant and life, including hawthorn, silver birch, ash, hazel, field maple, dog-rose, blackthorn and many more. Bodies of water are inhabited by a selection of frogs, toads and newts, with no permanent water reserves to provide fish populations."


A much fuller write up of the day from Polly on the Wandle Trust website: http://www.wandletrust.org/?p=5767.

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: http://www.wandletrust.org/.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's

Sunday 04-Jan-2015

This was an unanticipated pleasure. It was meant to be a girls' night out but a couple of them could not make it so I got to go, along with our friend Kate.

Mary had been unwell with pneumonia recently, even to the extent of being hospitalised, and had cancelled a previous concert. We were lucky that this gig went ahead but Mary had to keep herself going with throat spray and lozenges.

She told us about working on her forthcoming album which seems like a self penned departure from previous albums and about the sneak preview available on YouTube:



Maybe it was the roughness of her voice but it seemed to me the rawness of the emotions were more pronounced than when we saw her back in 2010 (Mary Coughlan at Ronnie Scott's Thursday 14-Oct-10). That was a fine performance but this seemed very much from the heart.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bill Posters Will Be Band at The Bull's Head, Barnes

Sunday 28-December-2014

My fourth and final time of seeing Bill Posters Will Be Band*. This was their farewell gig. After 31 years performing they have decided to call it a day. Got in quick to get my tickets to see the end of an era - and be entertained.


Featuring Peter Shade (off camera), Sam Spoons, Jim "Golden Boots" Chambers, Megs Etherington, John Gieves Watson and Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell (standing in for Biff Harrington). More biographical detail on the Bill Posters Will Be Band website.


The act defies coherent description - musical lunacy with more than a flavour of Spike Milligan about it. They play a number of songs, wear silly costumes, do comedy skits, Peter wears a cat tea cosy on his head while Jim plays a coat hanger; later John plays a metal washboard tie.


We get an old Bonzo's classic "Jollity Farm", sing-along to "Don't Tell I Tell 'E" (made famous by Adge Cutler and The Wurzels), comedy puppeteering from John, and too many other songs to remember. We unfortunately missed the final encore and valedictory speech as our taxi had arrived.

All washed down with couple of pints of Doombar. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

* Feb 2004Nov 2004Dec 2009

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Daffodil at Toto's Restaurant 2014

We were into November and no word on the Daffodil Christmas meal. It was a bit of a last minute panic: for us - what will become of our work's christmas party? - and for John the organiser - will it take place, when and where? Then mid-November the call went out for a straw poll - 6th or 13th of December?

In the end a date of the 6th of December was fixed upon. We duly dressed in our finery, took the 87 bus and turned up at the regular venue, Roux at Parliament Square, only to find the doors locked and the lights out.

Oh sugar, was it actually going ahead, had we got that date wrong, was it being held elsewhere? A quick phone call revealed "Yes, "No" and "Yes" respectively. Into a taxi for a 6 minute ride to Toto's Restaurant in Lennox Garden Mews where an apologetic John welcomed us.


So another break from tradition after almost unbroken decades of devotion to Michel Roux, Jnr. However I knew the food and wine would be good because John (on the right below) organised it.


The food was, of course, superb but it is all about the company, the dish is the accompaniment to the conversation.


The pairing of food and wine was all planned in advance, as per usual.

Daffodil Lunch @ Toto's
Saturday, 6th of December 2014
Aperitivo
Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG, Ville d’Arfanta, 2012
~ ~ ~ ~
To share
Burrata di Andria with grilled vegetables
Raw & cooked artichoke salad, pecorino shavings
Romagna DOC, Trebbiano Le Coste, Poderi dal Nespoli, 2013
~ ~ ~ ~
Tagliatelle with mixed mushrooms
Campania IGT, Greco Ponte Pellegrino, Fattoria Alois, 2012
~ ~ ~ ~
Cod fish with Mediterranean sauce
Toscana IGT, Donna Patizia, Buccia Nera, 2011
~ ~ ~ ~
Baby chicken, diavola sauce
Barbera D’Alba DOC, Piani, Pelissero, 2010
~ ~ ~ ~
To share
Tiramisu’
Selection of cheeses
Porto, Fine Tawny, Taylor’s
Sweet bites will be served with selection of coffee and tea

In terms of wine the standout was the Greco Ponte Pellegrino; for the food it was a tough call between the Tagliatelle and the Baby chicken but for seasonal correctitude the fungi nosed into the lead.

Another M&M works Christmas party successfully concluded.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

John Mayall 80th Anniversary Tour at Ronnie Scott's

Wednesday 26-November-2014.

It is four years since we first saw the legendary John Mayall (Wedding anniversary weekend 2010) supported by Marcus Bonfanti. This time it was at Ronnie Scott's with Ronnie's regular support band the Nigel Price/Jim Mullen/Mick Hutton Trio.

I got there early (6:15) in time to bag our favourite table - by the rail in the raised part of the premium seating directly in line with the centre of the stage.

We have seen this same excellent support trio several times now. Like a number of other front men, Nigel Price always introduces the other band members but never introduces himself.



Mary was in Switzerland and all flights to City airport were cancelled due to fog. She was rebooked on a Heathrow flight but it was touch and go if she would make it in time. As soon as she landed, through the miracle of modern telecommunications, I was able to order her food and drink timed for her arrival: she walked in the front door literally as John Mayall walked onto the stage. She dumped her bags and sat down before the welcome applause had died down. Phew!



An excellent set - John Mayall seemed to be really enjoying himself.

Blues Matters thought so too. "It is easy to summarise the set that John and his band served up for the first house of the night, in two words: most excellent. John Mayall’s brand of Anglicized Chicago Blues, his weaving of a long song to a tremendous crescendo, his ability to play the organ while with the other hand making great harmonica music, is undimmed. So, too, is his evident pleasure in playing and pleasing an audience, nearly sixty years into his career." Full review...



Afterwards we queued up to buy CD's, unusually separate CD's from each of the band members rather than the assembled company. So we bought three, one for each of Rocky Athas (lead guitar), Greg Rzab (bass guitar) and Jay Davenport (drums), and got them signed; we also got John to sign a couple of them as well. They have provided some excellent listening since.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ian Seigal and Jimbo Mathus at the Green Note Cafe

Camden, London. Monday 24-November-2014.

Blues at the Green Note - my kind of music, my kind of venue.

Earlier in the month I met up with an ex-colleague I had not seen for 32 years (!) and we ended up swapping Blues guitarist recommendations. I gave him Marcus Bonfanti and he gave me Ian Seigal.

As luck would have it the Green Note email dropped into my inbox a couple of days later and there was Ian Seigal and Jimbo Mathus. A quick consult with friends Kate and Nigel and I snapped up three tickets (Mary was in Zug, Switzerland on business).


Nigel was there for doors open at 6pm and bagged a good table. They no longer operate a full kitchen but there were wholesome, vegetarian bar snacks.

From the opening chords I knew this was my kind of music. The John McLaughlin concert and the Blue Note concert were fine, nay world class, but this music got my toes tapping. They did two sets.

This is my third visit to Green Note (previously Marcus and Myshkin) and just as much fun as the others, This is real, up close music - brilliant. I love the fact that you can wander up afterwards and shake hands with the musicians and say "Great gig, really enjoyed it" - this is not a "Like" on FaceBook, it is the real thing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Celebrating 75 years of Blue Note Records at the Royal Festival Hall

Saturday 22-November-2014

The first half was an extended, hour long duet by Jason Moran and Robert Glasper and it was mesmerising. It wandered through a whole range of styles. I am not sure whether it was an actual composition or whether they had a structure and improvised within that. Either way it was gripping. What also came across was how much fun they were having, that is something you can't see with a recording, you only get that with a live performance.

London Jazz News wrote: "This was a performance redolent of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s great duets, even culminating in Maiden Voyage – albeit Glasper’s Radiohead-infused version. Both pianists made their own distinct styles clear: Moran with percussive prepared piano and blues licks; Glasper with irresistible harmonies and allusions to R&B. Given its intensity, this first half would have proved ample celebration for many." Full review...


After the interval an all-star sextet took to the stage after the interval: Glasper was joined by Marcus Strickland (sax), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Kendrick Scott (drums) and Derrick Hodge (bass).

London Jazz News again: "The concert concluded with Message of Hope from Hodge’s first album as leader, providing a fitting, almost spiritual end to proceedings. With artists this talented, collaborating as well as they did here, it’s clear that the future of the label is in good hands. An exceptional evening which gave proof - if any were needed - that Blue Note is in rude health at 75 years old."

I would second that - an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable concert.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

John McLaughlin and Hedvig Mollestad Trio at the Royal Festival Hall

Thursday 20 November 2014

My brother-in-law is a big fan of John McLaughlin; he and my sister booked early and had managed to get front row seats. We were a little slower off the mark and were back in row MM.

We met up for a meal beforehand in The Archduke a short stroll from the RFH. I cannot go to the Archduke without remembering the time I went there with a crowd of colleagues from BIS (Applied Systems) for a team outing. We were all horribly hungover the next morning and I mean everyone, even the hardened drinkers.

We were all well used to session drinking and knew our limits but this was qualitatively different. I am quite convinced we drank adulterated wine as it was the time of the "anti freeze in wine scandal". You may mock but I am convinced. For us all to be that unwell was unique and never repeated.

I really enjoyed the support act Hedvig Mollestad Trio who belted out an eclectic mix of styles. At one point even I thought I heard a riff reminiscent of T.Rex's Twentieth Century Boy. Plus it doesn't do any harm for a band to be fronted by a woman with long blonde hair and a short red dress.

KWC Today wrote, "The Mollestad trio is a powerful trio and opened this memorable evening and played an excellent set with a programme ranging from jazz fusion, psychedelica to sheer hard rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin."  Full review...

The Arts Desk wrote, "Support came from the Norwegian Hedvig Mollestad Trio, with lead guitarist Mollestad, clearly pregnant, a superb role model as well as atmospheric prog guitarist of the highest standard. [...] With the sonic impact of a serious metal outfit, but the rhythmic playfulness of a jazz trio". Full review...


After the interval it was the turn of John McLaughlin and the Fourth Dimension. As the lights went down we saw the Hedvig Mollestad Trio tip-toe into seats a couple of rows in front of us.

KWC Today wrote, "In 4th Dimension, John McLaughlin assembled an accomplished, creative and fiery band. The tight and incredibly talented unit draws on the musical diversity from all parts of the world. Broadly speaking it is jazz fusion with a hint of blues and the result is quite stunning." Full review...

The Arts Desk wrote, "The repertoire and style was largely familiar, much of it released on the band’s album earlier this year, the pieces in many cases reworked from earlier McLaughlin material. But it was remarkable for the excellence and of the ensemble playing. The sensitivity and sheer quality of interaction within the band embodied the interest in loving spirituality that drives much of McLaughlin’s work perhaps more convincingly than the lyrics the band sung." Full review...

Next up - "Celebrating 75 years of Blue Note Records" on Saturday...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Le Nozze Di Figaro at Rose Theatre

Saturday 01-November-2014

An evening of culture, a night at the opera, and not the Marx Brothers' film but a bit of Mozart.

This performance was by Opéra de Baugé, a visiting company, for one night only. Their take on this was to transpose the setting to ante-bellum America. The Duke becomes the plantation owner and his power over the slaves echoing, if not exceeding that of the Duke's "droit du seigneur".

I did not know it was a comic opera (I thought Mozart was proper, serious music); it more resembled the Bryan Rix school of low comedy, there was everything except the vicar with his trousers down. So you get sublime music with some good laughs thrown in.


At one point the young swain Cherubino (on the right of the photo) disguises himself in women's clothes. Apparently this role is normally played by a woman so here we have a man playing a woman's role dressing up as a woman who is normally a woman playing a man dressing up as a woman. Hmm.

I am not much of an opera buff, in fact I am not an opera buff in any way shape or form, but I thought the singing was good and our friend Kate who came with us and sings and knows about this stuff averred the same. If you want a bit of culture you wouldn't go far wrong with this and in the excellent setting of the Rose Theatre.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good Cop, Bad Cop at the Leicester Square Theatre

Saturday 15-November-2104.

A very entertaining way to spend an hour with this slightly surreal comedy. It was positively Stoppardian - it reminded me of After Magritte with its use of rational explanations for apparently bizzare "life choices",


We ate beforehand at the Cork and Bottle wine bar which I have been going to since 1980. On a previous visit I mentioned this to our wait-person who remarked that that was before he was born!

The Lounge at the Leciester Square is one of the smallest venues I have been to for a while, in a good way. You are really close to the stage so can get the full impact of the performance. The reviews were in the vein of "damning with faint praise" but we thoroughly enjoyed it so what do they know.

Since it was a short walk and a short performance we had ample time to return to C&B for a night cap afterwards.

The British Theatre Guide wrote.
"Fettes's and Alexander's obvious differences are clear and deliberately exaggerated to great effect from both, which helps keep the audience hooked in the few moments of uninspiring madness.

What is more captivating and impressive is the delivery of Stevenson's character. A somewhat mad eccentric incapable of lying, this is a gold star performance which brings to life a top notch, deeply flawed and interesting character.

Initially, Good Cop Bad Cop starts off as a simple plot with little scope, so it was reassuring to see it develop. This is a great attempt from this writing trio at trying to push the boundaries and create a new edgy, funny play capable of its West End billing. " 
Full review...

The Upcoming liked it in an ambivalent sort of way,
"The performances here are all decent enough – Stevenson in particular deserves credit for an endearingly spaced-out turn as Joe, which at least serves to confound expectations of how the detainee should behave in this well-worn paradigm. They cast might be better served by the script, however, if it were boiled down considerably to form a much tighter (and much shorter) sketch." 
Full review...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble at the Temple Church

Friday 14-November-2014

We have been a fan of Jan Garbarek ever since Mary's copy of the Rough Guide to Jazz kept falling open at his entry so we went and bought a copy of Invisible World knowing nothing of his music. "There's an intensity here borne of deep concentration and commitment to beauty." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visible_World.

Several other purchases followed including Officium in which he collaborated with the Hilliard Ensemble in a mixture of Jazz and Gregorian Chant. We have also been lucky enough to see him twice at previous Jazz Festivals in 2007 and 2012.

We snapped up tickets as soon as we heard about this concert and got the best seats in the house - along the central aisle.


Atmospheric is the best word to describe the venue and the sounds. The Ensemble sometimes wandered around the church, sometime stood at their music stands while Jan prowled around at the back of the nave, rarely visible apart from odd glimpses. The church was almost a sixth member contributing echoes and resonances.

The Guardian's John Forham said "Garbarek and classical music’s Hilliard Ensemble are winding up a 20-year partnership, and Temple Church’s unusual circular nave was the perfect echo chamber for this quintet’s ethereal sounds." Full review...

Jazz Journal's Michael Tucker wrote "Garbarek and his colleagues were able to exploit the startling, clear and resonant – yet also intimate – acoustic offered by Temple Church. [...] An ultra-attentive audience [...] were treated to around 75 minutes of (largely) meditative magic from an ensemble shaping up to call time on what has been a remarkable 20-year journey into and across worlds as seemingly disparate as Gregorian chant and the blues, the sublimated drive of jazz and folk tropes and the hushed aura of a spare Arvo Pärt chart." Full review...

Given that the Hilliard Ensemble are about to retire this was probably the last ever chance to hear this magical combination - a rare treat indeed.