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

Ninth 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.

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 :-)

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

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.

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

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.

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.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Walking Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer's Society

Saturday 08-August-2015

Sponsor us on Mary and Mark's page:

We have signed up for a 23 mile trek along Hadrian's Wall in aid of the Alzheimer's Society from Broccolitia Roman Fort to Lanercost Priory.

"Level: Tough As we walk we can admire ancient monuments, beautiful scenery and the skill of the Roman engineers who built this famous landmark. This challenge should not be underestimated as it will take at least 12 hours for the majority of walkers."

We have been doing a lot of weekend walks the last couple of months to get the legs and lungs in shape for the walk which they describe as ""extremely tough one-day event over hilly landscapes".

Facts about Hadrian's Wall
  • We will be walking roughly 23 miles on the day but the entire wall stretches more than 73 miles in total
  • The wall and most of its defenses were built between roughly 122 and 128 AD. Its purpose was to mark the northern extent of the Roman Empire, which then covered much of Europe
  • The Romans also built 16 forts along the length of the wall, the remains of which can be seen today. Each one could house 800 soldiers and had its own prison, hospital, bakery and stables
  • The emperor, Hadrian, after whom the wall is named, wanted to make sure the soldiers stationed on Hadrian’s Wall were happy. He personally met with the troops and encouraged practice drills

So show us the money - donate on Just Giving!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Derelict London Walk - Silvertown

Sunday 19-July-2015

Another walk from Paul Talling. This time Silvertown from his book on Derelict London.

We started at the Tate+Lyle factory, formerly the Tate factory, and source of wealth for Sir Henry Tate - he of Tate Gallery fame. He also founded the more modest Tate Institute built for his sugar workers.

We then went to look at part of the new Crossrail track. This stretch utilises pre-existing Victorian tunnels and tracks of disused railway lines being given a new lease of life.

Tay Wharf was the manufacturing base of marmalade makers Keiller and Sons from 1880 until 1992. Keiller was from Dundee on the River Tay hence the name.

You can see the disused rail tracks no longer in use but the level crossing warning sign remains. This is our tour group.

Georges Diner "Allegedly serving up the best fry-ups and home-made steak and kidney pies for miles around, and run by Brian (not George), the clientele here was a great mixture of builders, lorry drivers and Canary Wharf suits."

The old Charing Cross Pier formed a floating bar in the defunct London Pleasure Gardens.

"The London Pleasure Gardens fiasco has cost Newham council more than £4 million for the five weeks it was open. [...] It opened at the end of June to take advantage of an expected surge in visitor numbers thanks to the 2012 Olympics. But just a week after the Games themselves opened on July 27, the company operating the site, London Pleasure Gardens Ltd, went into administration after events were cancelled and predicted visitors failed to show up." Read more at BDOnline...

Through the gates we could see a large building, These mills replace the previous flour mills that were the largest in the UK until destroyed by a huge TNT explosion in 1917.

A quick, obligatory look at that marvel of modern engineering that is the Thames Barrier.

Adjacent to the barrier is Waterside Park including a dock that has been filled in and landscaped with hedges trimmed to resemble waves.

In one park donated by the philanthropic Mr Tate we came across the incongruous shipyard gates from Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff who had repair facilities in North Woolwich.

The other half of Tate+Lyle - a sculpture at the entrance to Abram Lyle's golden syrup factory.

More disused rail tracks running alongside North Woolwich Road and close to the UK's first ever flyover - well there had to be a first one and Silvertown was the trailblazer.

Crossing the road and through a short passage took us into another world in Galleons Point Marina. The contrast between the yacht owning apartment blocks and the industrial dereliction could not be more stark.

A mere 4.1 miles at a very leisurely pace but after 21 miles the day before that was fine with us.

Thanks again to Paul Talling for a fascinating glimpse into London's more recent industrial history.