Saturday, December 05, 2015

Christmas Daffodil at Angelus Restaurant 2015

London. Saturday 05-December-15

Not actually a Daffodil Dining Club event but we improvised. The usual Christmas "Daff" did not materialise which left us in a quandary for our usual works Christmas lunch. It is essential to make use of the taxman's allowance for annual parties and other social functions. So we rounded up the usual suspects Pete and Amanda and booked a meal at Angelus.

This restaurant was a one off venue for the Christmas Daff in 2010 and really impressed. Ever since then I have wanted to make a return visit. We had a lovely meal, so much so that we ate it rather than photographed it. Not sure whether we can have a work's party next year if we have retired, maybe it depends if the company is still registered.

For more about this fine restaurant see Open Table reviews.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Paul Weller at the Eventim Apollo

Friday 04-December-2015

Mary was off for a girls' night out in Winchester so I took up the offer of a lads' night out to see Paul Weller at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo. This tour was to promote Paul's new album Saturns Patterns so I presumed that many of the songs were off that album.

The Telegraph gives it 4 stars. "Paul Weller, Eventim Apollo: 'the modfather remains a dynamic force. Former Jam singer delivered his new set with full-throated gusto, says Pete Naughton. [...] Over the following two hours, Weller and his fiercely well-drilled five-piece band – two drummers, a bassist, a keyboardist and former Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock – powered through a 27-song set that’s been finely tuned over months of touring this year." Full review...

Personally I found the sound pretty dire. One could hardly make out the vocals, lost in a mish mash of undifferentiated instruments. The Telegraph agrees: "The only disappointments of the evening came from the Apollo’s acoustics, which rendered some of Weller’s newer, rhythmically experimental material almost unlistenable."

I did not recognise hardly any of the set. Part of the Faustian bargain between artist and audience is that they play a mix of new stuff and some greatest hits to send the crowd home humming the old favourites. Reading the Telegraph review it would seem that Paul ranged widely across his back catalogue which just shows how little I know of his ouevre. All in all one of the most disappointing concerts I have been to for some time. Sorry Weller fans!

Still there was good banter with Grant and John and more pints of beer than are recommended in the latest Government guidelines [PDF].

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Average White Band at the Royal Festival Hall

South Bank, London. Saturday 21-November-15.

We enjoyed AWB hugely when we saw them at Ronnie Scott's so it was an easy decision to go see them again albeit in a larger venue. Still we got pretty good seats, Row E in the stalls.

The support act were Kokomo featuring Jim Mullen who we have also seen at Ronnie's in other line-ups. They were most enjoyable, always good when you hear a new (to me) band. They guy next to me was clearly a fan singing along and strumming the chords.

London Jazz News wrote:
"As Average White Band left the stage with two and a half thousand people on their feet, it felt more like the end of the final headline set at Glastonbury than an evening in the Royal Festival Hall. Yet when the house lights came on, with the final stabs of Pick Up The Pieces still hanging in the air, the audience were revealed not as muddy young rockers but a different tranche of society: charitably middle-aged and dressed for the theatre. On paper, Saturday night's Soul Summit may have seemed a straightforward return to past 70s glory, but the fantastic musical delivery from the bands and the joyous reception they received from the audience made it a new night to remember in its own right."
Full review...

Afterwards the band rushed round to the foyer to sign copies of their last CD. At first I thought "surely they don't need the money that badly?" but then I realised that it was actually them being good guys and allowing fans a chance to meet them all in person, say a few words and get a CD signed by *all* the band members.

And here is Mary having a word with Onnie McIntyre.

As London Jazz News said "A fantastic show, there was nothing average about this one."

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Olive Harvest 2015

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy. Saturday 07-November-2015.

The best harvest ever both in terms of quantity and quality.  Previous years we have harvested in the middle of November. We have two sets of trees with black and green olives respectively. The black ones ripen earlier so generally many have fallen to the ground by harvest time and we pick mostly the green variety. This year we went for the first weekend of November and as a result harvested many more black olives which were looking in prime condition.

We persuaded six of our friends to take a long weekend and help us with the harvest, not that they took a lot of persuading.

We flew out on a Thursday; Friday it was pouring with rain so no harvest. Saturday was clear so a-harvesting we went.

With eight of us I was not expecting the harvest to take long, normally three hours is enough. This time it took most of the day, partly because of the bumper crop and partly because of a leisurely lunch.

We worked in pairs, two to a tree and were most meticulous harvesting every last olive. We have a multi-function ladder that can be configured as a platform so I did the upper branches while Nigel here did the lower branches - teamwork!

We only have four nets and four crates so we had to co-opt one of the under-bed storage crates to hold the overflow. We forgot to weigh the haul but it easily hit the 100kg mark.

The olives went off to one of our neighbours for pressing along with his harvest. We do not meet the 220kg minimum pressing quantity so we combine ours with his. Since it is a batch process we know that the oil we get back is made, at least in part, from our olives.

The work done we relaxed with a pizza party. We hired in a pizza chef who brings all the makings and fires up our oven.

Part of the fun is having a go at making your own pizza. Creating an even, circular base from a ball of dough is much harder than it looks. The dough is slow-risen for three days and is incredibly elastic, it keeps springing back.

We were joined by two sets of neighbours so it was quite the party. Mino appointed himself pizza judge awarding points for shape and thinness to much hilarity.

The weather was sunny enough that a trip to the coast for a seaside lunch required a pre-lunch dip for the hardier souls. Not me. Too darned cold in the water. Sod that for a game of soldiers.

Tony is a great real ale aficionado so on our previous visit we had tracked down a source of Puglian artisanal beers.

Good food, good wine, good company, great harvest. What more could one ask for?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Prom 49, 2015: Mahler - Symphony No. 6

Saturday 22-August-2015

Mary decided to make this a "corporate event" so we treated a number of her colleagues to an evening of culture. We had a loggia box which seats eight and smuggled in a small picnic with us.

I was anticipated something quite gloomy given Mahler's reputation but I found it much more enjoyable than I had expected.

The reviews were variable and two both singled out the brass for disapprobation. Skipping over the first half of the concert (Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae) this is what two reviewers had to say about the main piece:

Seen and Heard international: Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Bring Magnificent Mahler to the Proms.
"And so to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Here the sheer orchestral perfection of the Boston Symphony shone through, with perhaps an odd exception: the solo horn player, James Sommerville, too often sounded just barely in control of his instrument and at other times tended towards approximation.
If the opening march was blunted somewhat, one listened with awe at so many aspects of this first movement: the stunning, clarion first trumpet of Thomas Rolfs, the sweet solo violin of concert-master Malcolm Lowe, the superb trombone trudge of the coda against heavy, low strings, and throughout the glowing oboe solos of John Ferrillo. Nelsons’ Mahler is heavily gestural and, yes, atmospheric. He also has a superb rapport with this orchestra; subtle tempo manipulations in the second movement were minutely managed, with Luftpausen both natural and precise."
Full review...

BachTrack: Prom 49: Boston Symphony Orchestra misses the magic in Mahler.
"So to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Standing at nearly four times the length of Dramatis Personae, and requiring one of the repertory’s largest orchestras, here it found a very unlikely friend: the Albert Hall’s acoustic. The BSO is a truly magnificent orchestra, and the sheer sonic richness produced by innumerable string desks, nine horns, and a brass section on very high risers meant this huge empty space felt fuller than I have ever heard it. Even better, everything was miraculously clear; Mahler’s orchestrational prowess deserves some credit, but warrants the highest praise for finding such a perfect sound even in this troublesome acoustic.
Unfortunately, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the biggest issue was the balance of the orchestra; the brass was far too loud most of the time, entirely drowning out the strings and woodwind, with the principal trumpet’s extreme vibrato and excessive volume simply too much from start to finish."
Full review...

The Prom finished relatively early as there was a second, late night prom following. So rather than go straight home several of us went for a beer at the nearby Queens Arms hidden down a back street mews with a decent range of beers.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Blues Brothers at Ronnie Scott's 2015

Thursday 20-August-2015

It is almost a year since we saw the Original Blues Brothers Band feat. Steve Cropper and Lou Marini at Ronnie's and were very much looking forward to a repeat performance. We were not disappointed.

No reviews of this year's performances to quote from and no photos of mine because I respect Ronnie's request not to photograph the band (but there are a load on their FaceBook page) including:

Lou Marini.

The parts of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi and taken by Tommy McDonnell and Rob “The Honeydripper” Paparozzi.

We got a bit of duelling guitars at one point. All good fun.

We were presented with a third brother to sing the Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" and others.

An excellent show and I even got to shake Lou Marini by the hand as he walked past.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Eighth Annual BBQ and Drink Our Excess Cellar

Saturday 15-August-2015

We havered about having our BBQ this year but went for it as there was a free Saturday before we went to Italy and it didn't clash with Bob & Lynn's BBQ because they didn't have one this year. So out went the invites and in came the acceptances.

We outsourced much of the catering to Waitrose but the artisanal ice creams are my department.

Ice cream #1 Blueberry ripple. Starting with a home made custard, real vanilla, and added rum in the blueberry sauce.

Ice cream #2 Brandy Alexander. This one never sets fully so is soft scoop and always goes first.

Ice cream #3 Yogurt and raspberry. I had to sieve all the pips even though the recipe said it was optional because I hate the pips getting stuck between my teeth. I add some vodka to the raspberries but not enough as it set hard and took ages to soften enough to serve.

Thirty-eight people came and drank 40 bottles of wine. The more they drink the less we have to move when our house sale goes through.

We left it too late to arrange a burger flipper. All the nephews are too old for that stuff. They are all graduated and have proper jobs that pay real money. Instead our friend Grant did the honours for quite some time which allowed me to mingle and so we gave him some very tasty Riesling as a thank you.

Next year the BBQ will be on the green outside our new flat. Looking forward to that.

Edit: This was actually number eight, we skipped the bbq in 2013.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic in Locorotondo

Masseria Ferragnano, Locorotondo (BA), Italy. Sunday

The main reason for adding a day to our previous trip to Puglia was to see this band following rave reviews from a friend of a friend. Any excuse to spend longer in Italy!

This concert was part of the 11th Locus Festival where (according to the English version of the website) "many other artists, will perform during three weekends themes: the modern black music American, the legends of the musical contaminations, and its electronic avant-garde contemporary." I can go with that.

The concert was in the open air in a country house estate on the outskirts of Locorotondo. The concert wasn't due to start until 10:30 which is just as well as the queue for the beer tent took half an hour!

Mary counted 14 people up on stage. It was a full on jazz funk spectacular.

The backing singer on the right wasn't wearing much so provide equal opportunity eye candy for the ladies they had a male dancer who rippled his six-pack and did handstand on the speaker stack.

The band played for nearly three hours and finished at 1:30 in the morning. Since we were in the middle of the country there were no neighbours to upset. As the crowd dispersed we wended our way back to the apartment just in time for a spectacular firework display at 2am which woke the dogs up and set off car alarms. And a nice lie in the next morning :-)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hadrian's Wall Walk in Aid of Alzheimer Society

Cumbria. Saturday 08-August-2015

Mary said "We haven't done a challenge this year". "Oh dear" I thought. So she signed us up for a 23 mile walk along part of Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer Society. That explains why we have been doing lots of walks this year - all part of the training regimen.

We took the day off and went up by train, picked up a hire car and drove to Brampton where we had booked a B&B for two nights. A walk round the town and a pint of local ale in the Howard Arms followed by a meal in a Brambles Bistro and an early night.

It was an early start: drive to Lanercost Priory for assembly at 6am to be bussed to the start point from where we would walk back to the priory.

It was a lovely day, perfect for walking, admiring the countryside and marvelling at the feat of Roman engineering as it snaked across the countryside following a natural ridge.

"Boys will be boys" and we passed several groups of men dressing up as centurions. And good luck to them, they are having fun, it adds to the general jollity and provides lots of photo opportunities. As I said to one lot they must appear in so many people's photo albums.

At times the escarpment that forms the basis of the wall's route is positively spectacular.

There are turrets every third of a mile and forts every mile.

It was a long hard slog. Some serious ups and downs at the start. It levelled off in the latter stages but by then we were running on empty. Mary had it worse as she was recovering from a horrible cold. But we made it - 23.6 miles in 8.5 hours.

A grand day out and we raised a reasonable amount of money for the Alzheimers Society.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cisternino Celebrates San Quirico 2015

We fitted in an extra visit to Puglia to surprise our friends who were staying in Trullo Azzurro. As luck would have it coincided with the feast of the patron saint of Cisternino - Saint Quirico.

The first thing we noticed is the repaving of our street. The town council are laying quality flagstones from Via San Quirico along our street, Via Manzoni, down to Corso Umberto. It's looking good.

Still work in progress. Our street is one of those that form the circumnavigation of the city walls which means that all the parades and festivals that involve a tour of the town pass under our window.

It would not be a trip to Puglia without a visit to our favourite seafood restaurant: La Rotonda de la Rosa. Reviews vary wildly but we love it.

Over the weekend the saintly celebrations included lights, live music and fireworks. In the evening the passeggiata was in hyperdrive.

In Via Roma the stage was set up for Italian rock chick Greta Manuzi.

In the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele a stage was set up for some classical music we heard brass band versions of some Verdi arias.

There were two days of celebration; Saturday was more secular, Sunday more religious. We had holy men of God pass down our street complete with a quaint PA - battery-driven loudspeaker on wheels - so the priest could broadcast the blessings.

Then came the great and the good with the holy saints, mother and son Julietta and Quriaqos, carried shoulder high.

That evening we were originally due to fly home but moved our flight out one day to fit in a concert from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. That didn't start till 10:30 pm and went on till 1:30 the next morning.

We got back to the apartment just in time for a spectacular firework display which from our terrace gave us ring-side seats.

A real shame to go home but it has taken me so long to get round to writing this post that we are already back there now.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Merton Priory & Wandle pub crawl

Colliers Wood Saturday 25-July-2015

A friend who lives down near my old neighbourhood (South Wimbledon / Merton) suggested a visit to see the remains of Merton Priory which was holding an open day. An opportunity to see a bit of local history not normally open to the public. Given the friends involved this turned into a pub crawl.

We started in The Charles Holden opposite Colliers Wood tube station where we tried their own ale brewed on the premises, very nice. We were somewhat surprised to bump into Mary's godson Alex who lives on the Isle of Wight. It turns out that his sister Zoe works in that very pub and he was meeting her there before returning home.

After a pint, and once the company of six was fully assembled, we went across the road to spend an hour looking at the remains of Merton Priory. We learned all about the Chapter House of Merton Priory. "Merton was a major Augustinian priory, founded in 1117 and dissolved in 1538, whose foundations are preserved in a chamber under Merantun Way" We also learned more about William Morris' workshop at Merton Abbey Mills.

History is thirsty work so we had a crepe and a drink at the Belgian Brasserie. They do some delicious fruit beers. I had a Leffe Blonde but next time I will definitely try a strawberry beer, it would be delicious with ice cream.

Our friends were not aware that the Wandle Trail continued all the way to the Thames; we were able to reassure them as we headed north along the river. Armed with my trusty "River Wandle Companion" I was able to regale the assembled company with facts about the river past and present until we reached Earlsfield.

There the third and final pub stop was agreed upon. Eschewing "The Wandle" pub, Mary checked beerintheevening for pubs near Earlsfield and the recommended option was The Country House (formerly The Fog). Just off the main road it is a little gem of a pub, friendly landlady, some decent beers and enough seating for all of us.

We then dispersed and a short bus ride got us home for a quiet evening in after a well spent afternoon.

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:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cuban Combination at Ronnie Scott's

Friday 24-July-2105

Our friend Andrea was home alone as John had taken the children for a holiday to Ireland. That meant an opportunity to come to the big city for a grown-up night out without "Mummy this" and "Mummy that". So she went for it big time.

First up was a meal in the gloriously, kitsch surroundings of The Criterion Restaurant (Grade II* listed). An OpenTable deal - two courses and a champagne cocktail - put us in a good mood for the rest of the evening.

Next up a short stroll to Ronnie Scott's for the late show: Irakere - a Cuban ten piece band for some high energy Latin rhythms.

The FT writes: "Irakere are soaked in rhythmic intricacy. It begins with Valdés orchestrating harmony and rhythm with asymmetric riffs and lines that twinkle. It breaks out when one of the five-man brass section grabs something to shake or scrape. Or when drummer Rodney Barreto forsakes the beat and becomes an extra voice in an already complex rhythmic lattice. The pulse never falters, but when the beat kicks back in, the effect is dynamic." Full review...

At Ronnie's if you go to the late show you have the option to stay for the late, late show for free so that is what we did. Mary and Andrea decided the blackberry margaritas were particularly delicious and repeats were ordered.

We staggered out into Frith Street as 2:30 am. Fortunately a black cab turned up just as we did so and which we hailed for a quick journey home.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Prom 09, 2015 - Beethoven Piano Concertos

RAH Thursday 23-July-2015

This was an unplanned visit to the proms as Mary had booked tickets for a later Prom not realising we were in Italy. The RAH will not do refunds but they will do exchanges. So we swapped for this on the grounds that you can't beat The Big "B" and we get of bit of Stravinsky thrown in as well. Full details on the BBC website. We went with our friends Bron and Maggie and had a meal beforehand in the Elgar Room.

Despite the fact that for a period in my life I had been to more Proms than rock concerts I never had a classical music upbringing so my review consists of "Actually I enjoyed the Stravinsky more than the Beethoven"

The Telegraph was more eloquent: "Utterly absorbing."

"For the past four years, the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been exploring all five of the piano concertos and the Choral Fantasy in a "Beethoven Journey" that is now culminating in a trio of headline concerts at the BBC Proms. His partner on his global travels with these programmes has been the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which again joined him in this pairing of the First and Fourth Concertos separated by Stravinsky’s palate-cleansing “Apollon musagète”. Together they gave utterly absorbing performances that were a testament to the strength and subtlety of Andsnes’s interpretative stance in this music and an unequivocal vindication of his decision to direct all the concertos from the keyboard." Full review...

I noticed was how many of my fellow audience members are able to sit stock still for the duration of each piece as if frozen by the Gorgon's stare. I am a real fidget pants, itch here, scratch there, shuffle in my seat, legs doing St Vitus dance. How I envy them their physical immobility.

Another friend Bill has been making use of his retirement to become a hard core Promenader attending almost every single prom. So much so that he is now one of the official music charity bucket rattlers standing at the exit doors collecting donations. We were able to spot him at the interval for a chat and meet at the door afterward for more catch-up.

A fine cultural evening.