Saturday, November 10, 2018

Macy Gray at Ronnie Scott's

London. Saturday 10-November-2018.

A contrasting pair of of performances, a cheerful and enthusiastic support act and a slick, professional but dour main act.

Being booked for the first house we get a support act. This is Ronnie's opportunity to introduce us to bands we may not otherwise have heard of, in this case the excellent Braxton Cook, a young saxophonist, and his band.

In marked contrast to the Macy Gray he was clearly thrilled to be appearing at the legendary Ronnie Scott's. He smiled, he chatted, he introduced himself and the songs, giving a little background to each number. Sure the music should speak for itself but some context adds to the enjoyment.

In the interval I rushed out to reception but there were no CD's on sale, Fortunately his manager came to the rescue and produced a pile. I thought cash from physical sales at gigs was an important source of revenue for all but the biggest artists. The few thousandths of a cent per stream that Spotify pay won't cover the mortgage. We have listened to the CD several times now with great pleasure - well done Ronnie's for a great support act!

And then we have Macy Gray.  She came on 25 minutes late. With only 1 hour 15 minutes for the set and a second house to follow I was not impressed. Any band should be set up, sound checked and ready to roll at the appointed time. To be fair they did finish late so we got our allotted time but that might have given the house a rushed changeover to prepare for the second house.

The music was superb but the chat was minimal and a smile would have helped.

The reviewer at The House that Soul Built writes:
"‘All the crazy bitches say “yeah”!’ A thoroughly packed audience whooped and hollered to Ms Macy Gray’s encouragement. However, I’m sure Gray wouldn’t be offended by the suggestion that she was probably the craziest presence at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club last night. And it’s a craziness and peculiarity she’s always embraced. She’s had no choice but to with that shredded, breathy, and frankly quite odd voice of hers. [...] Armed with a fully-decked band including two backing vocalists (clad in feathery red dresses and purple wigs), Gray delivered a set balanced between her greatest hits and her new material." Full review...
So that was nice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Rambert and Rambert2 at Sadlers Wells

London. Wednesday 07-November-2018.

The first of two visits to Sadler's Wells. An unintentional exercise in nested contrasts both between and within the two shows. This performance West / youth vs. experience, and East / Odissi vs. Kathak.

The Evening Standard was not entirely convinced: Rambert - Two review: A study in endurance, but not for the dancers. 3 out of 5 stars.
Rambert’s mixed bill is a study in endurance and determination — and we’re not talking about the dancers. The first chance for London to meet the company’s new junior troupe, Rambert2, made up of fledgling professionals aged 19 to 25 [...]
The night ends with its weakest work, Killer Pig, a long, preening piece by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, which hurts the ears and tries the patience. [...] An interesting, if flawed night. Full review...
The Guardian was more enthusiastic: Rambert: Two review – spiky, sassy dancers seize the stage. 4 out of 5 stars. Rambert showcases its new sister company in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s knockout Killer Pig, plus work by Benoit Swan Pouffer and Rafael Bonachela Lyndsey Winship
Rambert proper perform Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, in its last run before being retired from the rep. The 1981 work - a tribute to the disappeared of Pinochet’s Chile – seems like an odd programme choice, quaint by comparison, with its painted backdrop, melodic score and theatricality, but compellingly crafted choreography doesn’t date and neither does divine dancing. [...] 
In Killer Pig, by Sharon Eyal with Gai Behar, this aggression and the sheer volume at its climax becomes stressful. But that brazen intensity is part of its power and it’s the standout work. Part club, part catwalk, there’s spikiness and sass. [...] It’s exactly the kind of work a young company like Rambert2 should be doing: edgy, cool, challenging, excellent. Full review...
You pays your money and you takes your choice.

For me a lot of modern dance is a bit like a Rorschach test. I do not necessarily know what is going on, what the choreographer is trying to say, so I watch and let my mind roam where it will.

Rambert2 BBC London news piece - Nov 2018:

I will leave the final word with the Telegraph: "An impressively danced but oddly programmed evening, then, one that seems to suggest an effervescently creative past and a tediously one-note future – a bizarrely undesirable mission statement. The evening is far from a failure, but those 13 bright young things deserved a fairer choreographic wind on their maiden voyage. " Full review...

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Chucho Valdes at Ronnie Scott's

Soho, London. Sunday 04-November-2018.

The joys of being a member and getting advance notice. Mary was able to get tickets for this show before they sold out. We went with our friend Kath and had booked superior seats. Being regulars we knew to ask for the corner seat so that, after eating, we could shuffle round and all see comfortably without one of us having to swivel their head like an owl.

It being a Sunday we get no support act and two sets from the main artist which was a real treat. Couldn't find any reviews of this particular concert but he had a week's residency at Ronnie's three years ago which says it all:

Chucho Valdes/Irakere review – a Cuban hurricane of brass and bata
4 out of 5 stars. Ronnie Scott’s, London
The Cuban masters delivered a vibrant set that mixed intense big-band jazz, funk, rock, ritual percussion and vocals. John Fordham writes in the Guardian:
"Now celebrating their 40th anniversary under the brilliant pianist Chucho Valdes’s continuing leadership, Irakere are a hurricane where the Buena Vistas were a summer breeze. They launched a week’s residency at Ronnie Scott’s club on Monday with the elated parade of big-band jazz, funk, rock, classical music, and African-rooted ritual percussion and vocals that have been their trademark from the start." Full review...
Mary says he's one of the best pianists we've seen. It is amazing how different the same piano sounds with different players at the keyboard. Although I cannot but help but think that the sound engineer might have a contribution there as well.

It was fascinating watching the drummer use a whole variety of weird percussion instruments to conjure up a soundscape but it did occur to me that the pull of the visual perturbed the musical balance. Listening with my eyes closed I got a better sense of the total arrangement.

Excellent stuff.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Walking in the Lake District 2018 - Day 2

Coniston, Cumbria, UK. Friday 02-November-2018.

This was a much longer walk than the last but not as hilly, a circumambulation of Coniston Water.

25.41 km Distance 5:24:36 Time 12:46 min/km Avg Pace 371 m Elev Gain 1,886 C Calories

The weather couldn't make up its mind if it was sunny or overcast so we got a mixture of blue sky, cloud and rain.

A field of alpacas was a bit of a surprise after all the sheep.

Lovely autumnal walking. The outbound leg followed the Cumbria national trail first along the lake shore then headed up the slope of the hills and looked down on the lake.

A sizeable flock of Canada geese. In London parks they are a pest, they eat all the grass, crap all over the place and intimidate the other birds. Here I would hope they are less of an issue with more space to spread about in.

The return leg up the Eastern shore dropped back down to the shoreline.

We passed Brantwood - once the home of John Ruskin, a leading Victorian art critic.

Autumn berries.

As it was getting late and dusk was falling we avoided the high path back and came along the road. instead. Almost back to base, to compensate for the drizzle we got a rainbow.

Back to Coniston for a quick beer in the Crown Inn and then a drive home to the hotel for a long soak in the bath and a glass of champagne.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary

Windermere, Cumbria, UK. Tuesday 30-October-2018.

We always do something on our wedding anniversary for just the two of us. This year we wanted something special so we chose a luxury county house hotel - the Holbeck Ghyll just outside Windermere in the Lake District.

The view from our bedroom window:

It was set in wooded grounds rich in autumnal colours.

Mary bought an Alexander McQueen dress for our 20th celebration - a trip on the Orient Express - London to Venice. With great self control she has been dieting and exercising to ensure that she could get back into it for our 25th.

Back in 2006 we attended a BBR champagne school as a result of which we bought half a dozen bottles of Pol Roger Winston Churchill 1996 which we are gradually working our way through on special occasions. None more so this this. There was no mini bar in the hotel, fortunately the window sill outside was cold enough to keep it chilled for our pre-dinner aperitif.

When we got married we were two households alike in gadgetry. We had no need of electrical appliances or toast racks; our wedding list included luxuries such as bottles of Chateau Lynch Bages 1989 - the year we met. Our friends could buy as few or as many as they chose; we got up to ten so we bought the last two to complete the case. Like the champagne, we are working our way gradually through them.

The hotel was going to charge a large corkage fee but given the current list price of the wine it was worth paying (fortunately in the end they didn't charge it). We took the bottle down a few hours in advance for the sommelier to decant and allow it to breath.

The meal was excellent and the wine was superb. Celebration unlocked!

Walking in the Lake District 2018 - Day 1

Ambleside, Cumbria, UK. Tuesday 30-October-2018.

Today was our 25th wedding anniversary but instead of relaxing we went for a walk. A repeat of the walk we did in 2012 but this time with better navigation. Before lunch was a walk into Ambleside, up to Wansfell Pike (482m) and then across the moors to The Mortal Man at Troutbeck for a pub lunch.

Distance 10.92 km, Time 2:43:40, Avg Pace 14:59 min/km, Elev Gain 398 m, Calories 1,089 C.

Mostly sunny.

Autumnal colours.

View of Windermere.

More views.

Starting to look a bit murky but it passed.

Wansfell Pike 1.

Wansfell Pike 2.

After lunch we only had a short, mostly downhill, walk home. Carefully planned that way, beer has a way of demotivating the legs.

Distance 3.92 km, Time 47:33, Avg Pace 12:08 min/km, Elev Gain 101 m, 416 Calories C.

View over Windermere.

Back at the hotel...

...for a siesta and getting ready for the celebration meal that evening.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Winter Droving 2018

Penrith, Cumbria, UK. Saturday 27-October-2018.

This is our third Winter Droving festival [2016, 2017]. When we realised that it was the weekend before our wedding anniversary it was an ideal opportunity to organise Lake District double-header. Mary's sister and brother-in-law, having heard all about it from us, decided to join us this year.

A packed programme of live music, craft stall, street food and a candle lit procession.

I didn't think any of the bands were professionals but what they lacked in slickness they made up for enthusiasm and talent. It was great to see such grass roots music.

This group fronted by three female drummers had an almost had a punk ethic to it. "Let's form a band, dress up in fancy dress and bash out some music". On further listening it became apparent that these were well rehearsed numbers and all done with smiles on their faces, clearly having a good time.

Eliza Gutteridge is semi-professional and has appeared on The Voice. Mid-set a couple of mobile buskers passed through including this mobile piano.

Then time for some street food from the Jamaican stall: Jerk chicken and festivals (a fried dumpling).

It was time for the Drovers' Cup, a four-part event with four teams competing: firemen, farmers, bar staff and locals. First was the egg throwing with the firemen showing some serious motor control and catching skills; they had clearly been practising.

Second section was the day of beer relay race. They substituted fruit squash this year to reduce the spillage of good beer. Again the firemen won.

The next was another relay race, this time with bales of hay and sacks of potatoes as befits a rural themed festival.

The last leg was Cumberland sausage eating. Four sausages and two members from each team. The thought of sausages determined our menu planning for the following evening - sausage, mash and onion gravy.

At this point it was time for a wander round the stalls and then to Dockray Hall for beer and supper with our hosts and other friends. A few held the table whilst the rest of us went out for the parade. Flaming torches - but no pitchforks.


Howling Wolf.




Wild boar.

Then it was back to Dockray Hall for more beer to round off the evening.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Pollino National Park

Civita, Calabria. Friday/Saturday 05/06-October-2018.

Our friend Sue was visiting Calabria for a work conference. The plan was that she would come and join us for a couple of days since she was already down in Southern Italy. When we looked at public transport getting from Tropea to Cisternino by train was going to take a bonkers 11 hours. In the end we decided to go and collect her but break up the journey.

We drove over to Civita in the Pollini National Park and to spend the night in an AirBnB and have a look round. The big attraction in town is the Devil's Bridge over the gorge so we walked down, had a look and walked back up. Took about an hour although reading some of the reviews you'd think it was a major transcontinental trek!

A good view down the gorge. This was as far as we could go as a flash flood earlier in the year had claimed the lives of ten walkers and the path was inaccessible.

The town itself is very atmospheric and also is one of the pockets of Albanians in Italy scattered across southern Italy.

That evening we had an excellent meal at L'Antico Uliva recommended by the B'n'B. The town had a weathered look about it.

The next morning we had time to visit Cosenza and get a dose of faded glory.

The old town has definitely seen better days and many of the building were looking sadly neglected.

Our friend Sue caught a train part way, from Tropea to Cosenza, we picked her up from the station and drove her the rest of the way back for her visit to Cisternino. So that was nice.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Wandle Fortnight 2018

Wandsworth, London.

Wandling: Beer, a long walk and a short walk.

We were always planning to come back to the UK in September to celebrate my birthday. But when we heard about the Wandle Fortnight we decided to bring the UK flight forward a few days so that we could take part in a couple of the events. Wandle Fortnight is a "community-led celebration of all things Wandle running from September 8th to September 23rd".

Saturday 15-Sep-18.

Saturday was a bit hectic. It started with an early train to Reigate to do a park run followed by a cup of tea with my sister, followed by lunch with my mother in the residential home, then a train back up to London for the Wandle Beer festival.

They had about 60 beers on tasting. You got a pint glass with marks for a full pint, a half pint, and a third pint. That way, by drinking thirds, you could try a wider variety of beer. You bought a voucher for 5 pounds marked off in 10p. As you drunk your beer they scored off the relevant price 10p's. Any unused value on the card could be donated at the end of the evening to the nominated charity the Cat Protection League - a most worthy cause.

There seems to be something of a trend these days for brewing IPA of which I am not great fan. So I went for the two milds that were on offer and then tried a variety of porters.

It was better attended than the photo makes it look. There were a number of people seated behind me when I took this photo. We were joined for a couple of pints by our friends Gavin and Tania. When we had done enough beer tasting we headed off to Tooting Market for something to eat and a glass of wine at the always excellent Unwined.

Sunday 16-Sep-18.

The 30th anniversary of the inaugural Wandle Trail walk from Charing Cross to Croydon. You might wonder why it started at Charing Cross. It’s because the Long Distance Walkers Association don’t think the Wandle Trail is long enough so they added on an extra 5 miles. Oh my aching feet!

The newly opened promontory at Battersea Park.

The Wandle Creek, now improved by the removal of the barrier .

Looking the other way towards Bell Creek.

A small detour to the underpass by Wandsworth Bridge where a scene from Clockwork Orange was filmed.

My Dad was a great film buff and would have loved to know I lived so close to this spot.

The snuff mills at Morden Hall Park.

We followed the full path down to one source of the Wandle at Carshalton Ponds and then across to the other source in Wandle Park.

A long day and a long walk.

The walk ended up in Croydon and we took the tram home for a long soak in warm bath.

Wednesday 19-Sep-18.

Doing stuff about Wandsworth Town centre I always like to have a peer at the ex-Ram Brewery site to see how the river is doing. A pleasant surprise to see that the site is now open and there is a foot bridge from the High Street over the river so you can now access a stretch of the river previously hidden within the brewery.

The new landscaping is in full foliage.

On both sides. Not very extensive, and one might even say cosmetic, but a great improvement on the previous vertical sided concrete channel.

View back towards the new footbridge, Wandsworth High Street and Southside shopping centre.

View towards the Armoury Way road bridge.

Thursday 20-Sep-18.

Mapping the Mills - Walk 2. "Explore the significance of the River Wandle in establishing a millennium-long tradition of flour milling in Wandsworth. Walk, from Earlsfield Station to the Causeway, Wandsworth Town". Organised by The Building Exploratory.

Not just flour mills but calico, snuff, gunpowder, and more. The reason the river was so popular was that it's steep drop made for a fast stream good for turning mills. We only walked a short stretch of the overall river but covered the area I know best. Fascinating to learn where the various mills had been and some the the political and economic history that shaped the changing industrial landscape.

There are not many photos of this walk as we were too busy listening to our very well informed guide. You can read more and download a map and guide on the Wandle Valley Park Mapping the Mills page.