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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Fleet of RTs on Route 11

Sunday 02-November-2014

We had an unexpected change of plan thanks to a friend on FaceBook alerting us to this event. We abandoned our intention to walk part two of the North Downs Way and, instead, went for a ride on the buses.

"London Bus Museum to operate 60 year-old RT-family buses over full route 11

Route 11 is London’s most famous bus route, passing the Bank of England, St Paul’s Cathedral, Fleet Street, Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Victoria, Sloane Square and Chelsea’s Kings Road.

Before the famous Routemaster came the RT, the first of which ran in London before the second world war, 75 years ago in August 1939."
 See more at: RT buses recreate full Route 11

We walked along the Thames Path and over Hammersmith Bridge to the bus station at Hammersmith Broadway where we awaited our transport of delight.

Part way through the journey we caught up with the prototype RT1. We swapped buses and paid the five pounds to ride on this original - all the others were free - and well worth the money to go on a piece of vehicular history.

On the RT1 you get a proper conductor and a bus ticket.

A sign you do not see on modern buses.

We rode as far as Strand to buy me new Ecco walking shoes and then caught a different RT bus back to Sloane Square for more shopping.

From Sloane Square we walked back home via Albert Bridge and an atmospheric sunset.

I was reminded of a song from my childhood: Transport of Delight by Flanders and Swann. My favourite line:
"We like to drive in convoys - we're most gregarious.
The big six-wheeler scarlet-painted London transport diesel-engined 97-horsepower omnibus."

A full set of pictures on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157646932275914/show

A day far more fun than I had expected. Hold very tight please! Ting-ting!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Olive Harvest 2014

The final visit each year is closing up Trullo Azzurro for the winter and harvesting our olives. I had been hoping for a good harvest this year but the weather had other ideas.

Up till now the harvest has alternated between, typically, 35 kg and 90 kg. This was due to be a good year but the summer had been very wet and the olives were very poor quality - a combination of mushy fruits and damage caused by insects encouraged by damp conditions. We did not know this at the time and harvested as per Plan A.

We lay the nets down and raked the olives using fingers, hand rakes or rakes on poles.

We then 'herded' the olives into the crates picking out the leaves and lumps of clay.

We ended up with about 35 kg of olives. We then took them round to our friends to add to their harvest for pressing together and then learned the bad news; they were thinking of not even bothering to harvest as the quality was so poor.

We had already paid for hold luggage on RyanAir so we went round to the local olive press and bought 10 litres of this year's harvest to bring home as a consolation prize.

It was an opportunity to show our friends the presses at work - starting with the minimum 220 kg that you need to get olives pressed (which is why we need to put our smaller harvest in with our neighbours).

The traditional cold press process starts with grinding the olives, stones and all, into a gritty pulp; the millstones are just visible top left. The pulp is then layered between raffia-type, circular mats.

When sufficient matts are piled up the whole lot is put under a hydraulic press and the oil is slowly squeezed out.

The oil is then stored in stainless steel cans that look remarkably like milk churns.

The rest of the weekend went as planned - lots of vacu-sacs filled with linens and duvets keeping them dry for the winter and general tidying.

We also discovered an excellent new trattoria thanks to a recommendation from our friends Chris and John: Il Cortiletto a short drive away in Speziale near Fasano. We managed the full anti-pasti, primi, secondi and dessert and they were all excellent.

Thursday and Friday were very wet, Saturday morning stayed dry for the harvest and Sunday was lovely - we had breakfast and lunch outside. We were sorry to go home and the next trip is Easter to open up for the 2015 season.

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

BluesFest 2014 at The Royal Albert Hall

Thursday 30-October-2014.

For our 21st wedding anniversary the nice people at BluesFest London had laid on a programme of concerts for us. We orginally booked for the main evening performance but when we learnt that Marcus Bonfanti was playing we added on a stroller ticket and took the afternoon off work.

First on in the Elgar Room were Dr Feelgood who belted out some good ol' rock'n'roll. Robert Kane makes an excellent front man giving it plenty of energy.

Then Marcus Bonfanti who we have seen now for the eighth time. Seeing someone that many times you get to see different styles of performance from the wonderful acoustic set at Green Note Cafe to the raucous rock star version last year at Blues Fest 2013. This was slightly to the gentler side of centre.

For the third session we saw a little of the Matt White Trio in the appallingly unsympathetic venue of the Verdi room. We listened to a couple couple of songs then bailed in favour of The Excitements in the West Arena Foyer. A good call as they belted out some Rhythm 'n' Blues and Soul. The lead singer's style was a mix of younger versions of Aretha Franklin with a bit of Tina Turner thrown in.

Supper was in the Coda Restaurant. The waiter asked if we had been there before - "Yes, exactly one year ago for our last wedding anniversary".

The main concert was Robert Cray - excuse the poor quality iPhone photo - fortunately the music was high quality :-)

After the interval was Californian singer-songwriter Beth Hart\ about whom we knew nothing. We had come to see Robert Cray unlike the guy in the seat next to us who had come to sees Beth. She was good but not good enough to hold us to the very end - we were both feeling tired so we sneaked out before the end and grabbed a black cab home.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Mario Biondi at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Sunday 26-October-2014

We had been recommended Mario Biondi by our musically inclined friends in Italy who described him as an Italian Barry White.

Mary was visiting her Mum in Scotland and came straight from City airport to meet me at the nearest tube station and thence to Cabana Brasilian Barbecue for a very tasty pre-concert meal.

Empire doors opened at 7:30pm but we had checked online and Mario was not due on to 8:45 so we had a leisurely supper - I hate rushing my food. As it turned out we even got to see that whole of the support act Mozez.

Stalls seating was unreserved but we got really good aisle seats not too many rows back. I attribute this to people not bothering with the support act. Their loss as I thought Mozez were pretty darned good.

The audience was full of Mario fans who wanted to dance. After the first few numbers people were up out of their seats and dancing away.

I don't do dancing. Watching these people making an exhibition of themselves makes me realise how uptight I am. Just call me Mr "Poker up the arse" - I am unable to enjoy dancing especially in public.

I know the theory that they are actually enjoying themselves but I have trouble believing it. Because I am so self conscious I cannot comprehend their behaviour; I can only conclude that they are desperate attention seekers - which is patently not true.

Another thing that struck me was how easy it is to forget to give the band full credit. So often the concert is all about the star but the sound you go to hear is much more than just the singer. The band is as important to the sound you have come to enjoy. Mario's band were very good indeed.

Friday, October 31, 2014

North Downs Way 01 - Farnham to Guildford

Sunday 19-October-2014

We decided to get out about about and get some exercise. My suggestion was to walk the first leg of the North Downs Way - a long-distance path that runs from Farnham to Dover and is 153 miles long.

We caught the train down to Farnham where my parents live; we decided not to drop in but, instead crack on from the station. We quickly met the River Wey which, at the very start of the walk, is little more than a ditch but soon expands to a stream.

We crossed a small tributary of the Wey with a cute folly in the shape of a bridge.

By half way through the walk the Wey looked like a proper river.

The route is gently undulating with no real ups and downs. In theory an easy navigate but I did miss one turning as you can see on the map.

A good part of this stage runs parallel to the Hogs Back along country lanes and through lovely deciduous woodland.

The last mile was a bit of a forced match to catch the train and avoid an hour's wait for the next. We made it with about 45 seconds to spare.

I am guessing that we will eventually do the complete walk.

Watch this space...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kenilworth Grammar School Reunion - Class of '71

Kenilworth, Warkwickshire. Saturday 11-October-2014.

A reunion for those of us who left KGS in the summer of 1971.

We met up in The Tiltyard opposite the school for lunch.

This, and previous reunions, have been efficiently organised by Dilys Shepherd, seen here talking to Ross Beadle.

We also had a couple of teachers present as well as us pupils (see attendees list below).

An unexpected bonus was announced - a tour of the interior of the school through the kind offices of the caretaker who very patiently lead us round the old school.

It was a strange sensation standing on the stage of the main assembly hall. I only ever went up there on prize-giving day (which happened most years as I was such a swot). For others it brought back memories of Pirate of Penzance in the sixth form.

The chemistry and physics labs no longer boast traditional mahogany lab benches. They are all gone to be replaced by flimsy formica topped tables.

The Portakabin that was my form room in the sixth form was still there after nearly half a century - a tribute to British engineering! It brought back memories of early bridge playing days and Jeff Love bringing in his copy of Blind Faith's eponymous album and its controversial cover art.

A final tour of the playground.

A most successful reunion and a chance to meet up with my past fellows and reminisce over my school days.

A full set of photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/markmclellan/sets/72157648411444140/

  • Elizabeth Brown (was Thomas)
  • Wendy Browne (was Skinner)
  • Linda Camidge (was Wake)
  • Martin Haswell
  • Mark McLellan
  • Norman Stevens (Teacher)
  • Bill Nealon
  • Mary Plimmer (was Cameron)
  • Diana Jones (was Gibson)
  • Mary Boswell
  • Dilys Shepherd (was Crumpton)
  • Cathy Martin (was Holland)
  • Chris Jackson (Teacher)
  • Paul Pearce
  • Andrew Fox
  • Ross Beadle
  • Ken Harrop
  • David Botterill

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cleaning the Wandle October 2014

King George's Park, Wandsworth, London. Sunday 12-October-2014

This was the first outing for my birthday present from Mary - a pair of size 9 safety waders complete with steel toecaps and steel shank in the sole.

The Wandle Trust provide a goodly pile of waders - they have plenty of 10's and 11's, plenty of 6's and 7's, but only one pair of size 8 and not a single pair of size 9. Hence getting my very own pair.

It is not so long since we were here last but there was still plenty of fresh rubbish to pull out of the river.

Duvets are particularly weighty and unwieldy so we use rope and grapple to drag them up the bank.

As well as invasive flora there are also alien fauna. Chinese mitten crabs are officially listed as one of the World's 100 worst invasive species [http://mittencrabs.org.uk/].

The half-barrel, floating trugs quickly filled with the usual suspects including wheels and tyres. We always check the latter for eels as the eel count gives a measure of river water quality

The usual lunch break for tea and cake. The tea was particularly welcome to warm the fingers as the water was colder than I was expecting, given the air temperature.

It it not uncommon to find car parts beyond just tyres. This time I pulled a steering wheel and a car seat out of the ooze.

This clean-up we were joined by volunteers from local estate agents Seymour Green who helped swell the ranks of volunteers - well done guys.

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/.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Kate Bush at The Eventim Apollo - Before The Dawn

London, England. Saturday 20-September-2014.

I was online at one second past nine to get tickets to see this icon from my youth. I was chuffed to bits to get four top price tickets in the stalls on my actual birthday. Who to invite? Well it had to be Mary and my brother and sister.

I respected Kate's request not to takes photos during the performance but did allow myself one before and one during the interval.

When she walked on stage the welcome was astounding. I have been to a number of gigs where the audience cheered enthusiastically at the entrance of the band but this reception was qualitatively different in timbre - it was real love and devotion from her fans.

Before the Dawn

This was not a concert - it was musical theatre with two complete song cycles. Before the interval it was The Ninth Wave, the second side of Hounds of Love, and after it was A Sky of Honey, the second CD of Aerial; the whole lot topped and tailed with a number of other songs [Set List on Wikipedia].

Her voice is no longer the little girl warbling of her early years; her range seemed deeper and richer.

She talked very little as befits theatre rather than concert. Mostly she said "Thank you, thank you" after every song and seemed genuinely moved and grateful by her reception. The only other thing she said, and it seemed incongruous, was to thank her "shit hot band" and her "shit hot singers".

Ian, Mark (me), Jane

I had not realised that The Ninth Wave was a coherent collection because I don't really pay enough attention to lyrics. Seeing it acted out was a real a-ha! moment. So, not only did I get the music I gained insight and understanding which added to the enjoyment.

Poetic confetti fired at the audience

This is not a review, there are plenty of extensive reviews out there from the broadsheets - Google for Kate Bush Review. What I can say is it was a rare treat, a once in a lifetime event, which I am very happy to be able to say "I was there".