Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Keb Mo at The Union Chapel

Islington, London. Tuesday 15-July-2014.

We first saw Keb Mo in New Orleans the first time we went to Jazz Fest back in 1999. He doesn't get over to the UK often. The last time we saw in him in the UK was in 2001 at the BIC supporting B.B.King. We were wearing these very same t-shirts and several people came over and said "He's brilliant" and asking which of the CD's on sale we would recommend.

We had a meal at Tierra Peru beforehand; Mary reckons it's the best ceviche she's had outside of Peru. The Union Chapel is an amazing venue, positively cathedral like in grandeur.

The support act was a very droll "Son of John" who played a set of high energy acoustic blues.

Then Keb came on to an enthusiastic reception and played a mix of old favourites and several tracks from his new album Bluesamericana. We had to buy a copy of course.

Excellent evening, let's hope it is not so long till he gets back to the UK.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cleaning the Wandle July 2014

Beddington Park, Surrey. Sunday 13-July-2014

This cleanup was also the annual Wandle Trust picnic which they organise as a thank you to us volunteers - much appreciated. It was also the last cleanup for Erica who has been the Cleanup Coordinator for as long as I've been going and, apparently, since very nearly the inception of the Wandle Trust.

This was advertised as mainly a balsam bashing event but within five minutes I had hauled the first of several shopping trolleys out of the river.

Himalayan balsam is not the only invasive species here; there were also several Giant Hogweed - best steered clear of as the sap can burn the skin.

We use half barrels as floating trugs to gather our harvest.

It is breeding season for many birds and we do our best to avoid the wildlife. Hopefully the mother will return to this nest once we have moved on.

By lunchtime we had the usual collection of rubbish.

One unusual item was a cloth bundle that had been weighted down by a brick attached with cable ties and a crucifix attached. Of course we had to investigate just in case it was something reportable.

As I had found it I got to snip the ties and unwrap the cloth. The smell was pretty rank as I revealed a white rat! Phew, at least it was not human. Whether it was a much loved pet or some Satanic ritual we will never know.

It was a lovely day for a picnic and we were able to relax in the sunshine after an earlier passing shower.

Gideon gave a speech of thanks for all Erica's work for the Trust over the years. Theo, Chairman of the Trustees, presented her with a card and gift vouchers.

Then a surprise presentation of a coconut. We often find half coconut shells in the river because of offerings from the nearby Ghanapathy Hindu temple. They can be used to mark new beginnings so it was an appropriate symbolic gesture for Erica.

Then another presentation this time of a collage showing various aspects of the river done by one of the other regulars. A really beautifully done piece of art and a wonderful, personal gift.

A great day all round.

More pictures on Flickr.

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/.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Puglia July 2014

Puglia, Italy. Monday/Saturday 07/12-July-2014.

Courtesy of the British Airways luggage allowance my normal cabin bag went into the hold and its place was taken by a very fine Panama hat.

This hat is my 60th birthday present from Mary. Given the respective climates of England and Italy it was always destined to live in Puglia.

The next morning, looking out of the window, I saw a dark line on the car door. My immediate thought was that someone had opened their door into mine, especially as there was a dark coloured jeep-style vehicle parked next to ours. When I got down to the car I came face to face with a large cricket or cicada style beastie.

To give an idea of scale here it is next to the alarm fob.

On our last evening we went out for a meal in Martina Franca. The local Pilates teacher is also an wannabe chef. Every so often she takes over a local restaurant for the evening and plans and cooks a meal with matching wines from a local winery. This time it was in Del Terrazze del Rococo - ristorante panoramico - in baroque Martina Franca. A wonderful roof top setting.

It was a very leisurely meal lasting from 9:30pm to 1:30am; I was glad I was not driving, I was more than ready for my bed by the time we finished.

Other activities including fitting a kitchen shelf from Ikea in Sotto le Stelle, meals with friends and the obligatory beach lunch at La Rotondo da Rosa.

Can't wait to go back in August.

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.holiday-rentals.co.uk/trulloazzurro

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rolan Bolan at The Half Moon Putney

Sunday 29-June-2014.

From the stage version on Saturday to the real thing on Sunday: Rolan Feld Bolan at The Half Moon Putney. Having seen the last night of the London run of 20th Century Boy on the Saturday it was a serendipitous coincidence that Marc's son, Rolan Bolan, was playing the Half Moon at Putney on the Sunday.

We had friends round for Sunday lunch for a five and a half hour, leisurely and boozy lunch with many fine wines. I was in two minds whether to go or not as the thought of a siesta was very appealing but, as Mary pointed out, when would I next to able to get to see Rolan. It was not quite "a once in a lifetime" opportunity as I am sure he will have a successful musical career but Putney is only a 20 minute bus ride away. A quick call confirmed there were tickets available on the door so off I went.

Arrived there in good time, got a beer and a front row seat. I would have expected it to be packed with fans of his dad wishing the son well. There were a couple of T.Rex / Bolan t-shirts on display and I ended up moving back a row to chat to a couple of fans behind me.

It can be a two-edged sword to be the offspring of famous parents. He is writing and composing his own material but he did include three Marc songs in the set. He did them well and it is good that he feels able to honour his dad's legacy.

The Half Moon is a small venue so I was able to have a quick word with Rolan up at the bar afterwards. Thanked him for an enjoyable set and asked if he had seen the musical; he had not.

Then off home having completed a Bolan double bill weekend.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

20th Century Boy at The New Wimbledon Theatre

Saturday 28-June-2014

Strange to tell but Mary didn't want to go to this so I went with friend Ros. The three of us went for a Italian meal beforehand then Mary toddled off home and Ros and I joined what looked like a sell out show.

The musical took a basically linear biographical approach to Marc's life but used Marc's son Rolan as the "narrator" discovering his father's story through Marc's family.

A review from Gordon of Tyrannosaurus Rex tribute band Strange Orchestra:

"On Saturday night I was lucky enough to see the 20th Century Boy musical with a great group of friends at the New Wimbledon Theatre. I saw it 4 times in Ipswich and like everyone else I got caught up in the euphoria and excitement.

I saw it twice in Coventry and was very lukewarm with the changes to the storyline and felt it had lost a lot of it's original momentum and freshness and to be honest I thought it was going nowhere fast. Saturday night was an incredibly huge step up, from everything I'd seen before.

I thought George McQuire did an ok job but Warren Sollars nailed it as good as anyone's ever going to. The new Rolan actor is as good as the original which says something as he had a lot to live up to. The two girls who play June and Gloria are superb, the Gloria actress has been with the show from the start and June's actress is doing her 2nd run after Coventry.

All the actors now seem better and more professional as well as the additional cast who's dancing and singing was spot on and they looked gorgeous to boot!

This show, which has had more than it's fair share of critics, me included, is now something special and the whole theatre rocked its socks off. By Jove I do think it's ready and good enough for the West End. Just sort the fecking shoes out!! It'll shut everyone up and it's not rocket science. So much work has gone into the show it's a shame something so simple still causes so much negative response when it's so bloody easy to correct!!"

Obviously you cannot really end on Marc's death so the coda to his story was an extended encore of several of the best loved tracks to get them dancing in the aisles and send the audience home on a high.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

George Benson at Hampton Court Palace

Monday 23-June-2014

Only a week after seeing Van Morrison we find ourselves back at Hampton Court to see George Benson, this time with our friend Andrea.

Mary and I did have tickets to see George at Ronnie Scott's but strictly limited to two per member much to Andrea's disappointment. So when this concert came up we bought three tickets and cashed in our RS tickets for them to sell to someone on the waiting list - doubtless making for a couple of happy bunnies somewhere.

This time we went for the champagne picnic from the caterers. Since they are for two we supplemented it with a bottle of white wine, homemade, and very delicious, gazpacho plus some other nibbles.

This time it rained and, like hardened Brits most just put up the brollies and carried on.

This time I did discretely sneak a couple of shots of the stage but there were many others openly snapping way. I do wish they would turn off the flash though; at that distance it is of no use at all and the flashes are a distraction.

I found the music all a bit smooth. It is old school music to seduce by, you know the thing: glass of wine, dim the lights, put on George Benson and snuggle up on the sofa.

The crowd were clearly devotees and several of the tracks were obligatory crowd-pleasers that had the entire audience on their feet. The Times reckons five stars but the full review is behind their subscription firewall. It was all good stuff. So a good time was had by all.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Van Morrison at Hampton Court Palace

Mon 16-June-2014

Now the seventh time we have seen Van the Man and the second time at the Hampton Court Jazz Festival. I still find it very special that the gig is in the courtyard of a 500 year old palace.

The deal is have a picnic in the grounds beforehand and many hundreds available themselves of the lawn behind the palace.

You can order a picnic from the caterers or bring your own. We have a natty little picnic backpack with a two place setting and took our own; catering by Sainsburys.

I respected the "no photography" rule (this time) so all you get is the stage. Last time we saw Van there was a mystery woman on stage. This time we found out it was his daughter, Shana. She did a 15 minute warm-up set comprising three or four songs then stayed on stage to join her dad. She provided some backing vocals and joined Van for a couple of duets.

I am sure he did a more jazz biased set appropriate to the festival. The Telegragh seems to agree and gave it 5 stars.

"Van Morrison played with both sensitivity and commitment at his gig at Hampton Court Palace", writes Andrew Perry.

"Moondance, as the evening light started to fade, was so jazzy, it actually morphed into Miles Davis’s “So What”. [...] Throughout, though, this was music as salubrious and classy as the setting, characterized by the band’s deft, delicate playing and their leader’s rare generosity of spirit. With the rain holding off, and a raucous send-off of “Gloria”, it was a marvellous night, indeed – truly fit for a king." Read the full review...

We have never seen the grumpy side of Van Morrison. Seventh time lucky. Every time he has been on top form and every concert subtly different. We reckon we've done Van, we might not bother again, let's not push our luck. There are other artists to see.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

West Highland Way

Scotland. Sunday/Saturday 08/14-June-2014

After last year's successful completion of Coast to Coast we decided to have a go at another long distance trail - the West Highland Way.

8 June WHW Day 1
Milngavie to Drymen 12.8 miles, already in beautiful countryside and more sun than rain! Enjoying a pint of West Highland Way at the end.

It took a while to get started as there were lots of walkers doing the photo opportunity at the starting obelisk as we took snaps of each other.

Much of the first day was through my favourite type of countryside - deciduous woodland with ferns underfoot.

Note: The Garmin cannot agree with itself - the first mileage is what the trip meter shows, the second is the track manager mileage. Generally we go with the lesser figure; don't want to brag or overstate our achievement.

Total odo. 12.9 miles (12.8)
Moving time 3:54 hr
Moving av. 3.3 mph
Stopped time 33:09 min
Overall av.  2.9 mph
Running total 12.9 (12.8)

9 June WHW Day 2
15.9 miles, up and down times n ( where n is a large number). Great morning and wet afternoon. overnight stop at Rowardennan Hotel.

A high point, the view from Conic Hill.

Total odo. 16.2 miles (15.9)
Moving time 5:36 hr
Moving av. 2.9 mph
Stopped time 1:28 min
Overall av.  2.3 mph
Running total 29.1 (28.7)

10 June WHW Day 3
Another 16 miles, beautiful scenery, hard going and tiring. Mixture of sun and showers. Overnight stay at the characterful Drovers Inn, Inverarnan. Lots of men in skirts serving in the cosy bar where they served huge portions of haggis, neeps and tatties.

The banks of Loch Lomond were not so bonny. The trees meant you cannot see much of the Loch and the path is miles of switchback rockiness.

Farewell view of Loch Lomond.

Total odo. 16.2 miles (15.9)
Moving time 5:55 hr
Moving av. 2.7 mph
Stopped time 1:50 min
Overall av.  2.1 mph
Running total 35.3 (34.6)

11 June WHW Day 4
Loch Lomond left behind and now heading into the hills. Mixture of sun and showers, lovely scenery when we could see it. Overnight stay at Glengarry House.

Lunch at a confluence of path, road and railway. Lynn had gone for the fetching midge net.

The trail took us past the site of St Fillan from which my surname, McLellan, is supposed to be derived so I have visited my spiritual homeland.

Total odo. 13.2 miles (12.9)
Moving time 4:31 hr
Moving av. 2.9 mph
Stopped time 1:17 min
Overall av.  2.3 mph
Running total 48.5 (47.5)

12 June WHW Day 5
20 miles over hills and moors. Great walking weather with only one short shower. Overnight at the only accommodation in sight - Kings House Hotel, Glencoe.

This was the longest day's walk.

Lunch stop was by an archetypical burn.

In the local pub the PA was playing a traditional Scottish humorous song:

Oh ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty story flat,
Seven hundred hungry weans will testify to that.
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching earth are ninety-nine tae wan.

Total odo. 20.5 miles (20.1)
Moving time 6:35 hr
Moving av. 3.1 mph
Stopped time 1:22 min
Overall av.  2.6 mph
Running total 79.0 (77.6)

13 June WHW Day 6 (already??).
Shortish day but steep, a 9 mile climb over the Devil's Staircase (1800 ft). Limited views because we were walking in clouds / mist / rain. Overnight stay at Allt na Leven Guest house.

Supposedly the day with the most spectacular views but the Scottish weather had other ideas.

The Scots have a special word for this kind of weather - dreich.

Total odo. 9.9 miles (9.6)
Moving time 3:41 hr
Moving av. 2.7 mph
Stopped time 30:08 min
Overall av.  2.4 mph
Running total 88.9 (87.2)

14 June WHW Day 7
Enjoying a beer after 16 miles up and down. Couple of climbs in sticky conditions but no rain!!!! A celebratory beer at The Grog Gruel, Traditional Alehouse & Restaurant, Fort William.

Midge net - it's the Scottish burka!  Having a whiskey back at the B&B.

The end of walk team photo.

Total odo. 16.3 miles (16.1)
Moving time 5:27 hr
Moving av. 3.0 mph
Stopped time 1:10 min
Overall av.  2.5 mph
Running total 105.2 (103.3)

West Highland Way summary: 103 miles in 7 days (96 "official" miles plus to and from B&Bs) Ups and downs all along the way with some steep bits and high points at Conic Hill (360m) and the Devil's Staircase (600m). Hardest walking: Loch Lomond side and cut stone old military road across Rannoch Moor. More dry than rain, no blisters, Mary had only 3 midge bites and we all had many beers :-))