Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Celtic Connections 2010: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 25 January

This was the third time (maybe the fourth) I'd seen Beth, so I knew I was going to enjoy the concert. It began very well, with a set from Charlie Dore and the Hula Valley Orchestra. They played a kind of tuneful ballad-laden folk-rock not far removed from that of BNC herself. Then came Beth, instantly getting fankled up in guitar straps and cables and establishing a very rapid bond with the audience as she sorted herself out. She has a new album out (Back To Love) which was released on the day of the concert and which BBC Radio 2 had made record of the week. In the course of the evening she did a lot of the songs from it, but still found time for some of the old favourites. So we had Sand and Water (well, duh), Happy Girl, This Kiss, All I Have, Shake My Soul and Emily. Her band were excellent, and supplemented for some numbers by Phil Cunningham on accordion and whistle. I suspect Beth is in love with Glasgow. I am certain that Glasgow is in love with Beth Nielsen Chapman.

BTW, the new album would seem to be excellent. I have all her albums of original songs but had not bothered with the ones of hymns and other religious music. This one is a definite return to her form of theouTou Hold The Key" and "Sand and Water" era.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dog Day Morning

We went up to Ballater this weekend, thinking we might get some more skiing in while Scotland has decent snow. the forecast was for rather iffy weather, though still for good snow conditions. So there we were, arriving at the Lecht ski area pretty much as it opened on Saturday morning. And we sat in the car and looked at the weather. It was snowing wetly, and miserable, and a little windy, and visibility was rubbish. So we ast and thought, and thought and sat, said "Stuff this for a game of soldiers" and hightailed it down to Aviemore where (apart from various climbing shops and coffee shops) there just happened to be the British Sled Dog Championship taking place, on snow for the first time in 15 years. So naturally, that's where we found ourselves. And it was wonderful. After a while we began to feel that the actual racing was beginning to look rather repetitive, but the surroundings - comprising several thousand dogs and owners and equipment - remained endlessly fascinating. Don't get me wrong, the races were fun: seeing how very different the best and worst times were over a four mile course was fascinating in itself. But watching the sleds whoosh past: that began to get a bit repetitive. Though my heart did go out to the guy whose lead dog decided - about 80 metres from the start - to stop and take a dump right by where we were standing. When that dog was good and ready, and quite emptied, mushing recommenced - and not before.

We certainly felt we'd had an enjoyable visit (much more fun than skiing in bad weather) , and we will return , even if next year it's back to racing on the wheeled sleds which resemble low-slung racing tricycles.

There follow a few pictures (taken by Hilary). A team starting off:

A somewhat less energetic team after four miles of hauling:

An even less energetic team at the finish (note the musher having to help the sled along with his foot):

Off duty dogs:

A probable future competitor (this Samoyed was 13 weeks old):

And an oft-repeated statement of priorities:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Celtic Connections 2010: Eric Andersen, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 17 January

Yes, that's right, the Eric Andersen who was one of the original generation of New York-based singer-songwriters publishing in Broadside magazine, along with Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Len Chandler, Patrick Sky, Malvina Reynolds and dozens of others. Like most of his contempraries, Eric had a couple of big hit songs which were covered by hundreds of guitar-picking singers, not that it made them much money. Eric's hits were "Thirsty Boots" and "Close The Door Lightly When You Go" (of the latter, he said on Sunday that his biggest regret was never having seen Johnny Cash perform it: apparently it was a regular part of JC's set for some time).

So when you see a legend performing half a century on fromn his glory days, what's it like? A few years back I saw Davey Graham, who while still a great player was a shadow of what he'd once been. The Incredible String Band in the Noughties weren't a patch on the ISB of the Seventies. Al Stewart continues to improves, but then Al matured late as a performer, only really hitting his stride in the mid-Seventies.

Eric Andersen still has it. It's not just that when you hear him do the old classics he sounds as good as he did in the Sixties. It's not just the relaxed way he performs, a laid-back style developed over decades. Nor is it the undoubted quality of his more recent songs, very different though they are from his early work ("The Rain Falls Down In Amsterdam" for example, about the rise of the far right in present-day Europe). It's the near-perfect rapport with the audience. OK, so Glasgow and New York have a lot in common and it's easy for a native of one to be accepted in the other. But the audience on Sunday had come from all over. I'd come from Edinburgh, and the guy in front of me had come from London.

His guitar playing is good (not flashy-good, just competent-good) and his piano playing even better. He can still play a harmonica in a bridle and sound convincing, and his wife Inga (from Amsterdam, and at a guess about 15 years his junior) is an excellent backing vocalist. I'm not too familiar with his more recent material so my set list is patchy, but he definitely played:

Close The Door Lightly When You Go
Rain Falls Down In Amsterdam
Violets of Dawn
Before Everything Changed
Thirsty Boots

He was ably supported by Craig Jeffrey, whose talent clearly exceeds his experience but whose own songs were pleasant enough, and whose covers of "Hallelujah" and of a song by the obscure punks Jim Eats World were well-chosen.

Here is Eric doing "Violets of Dawn" about a year back in the States somewhere. I think it gives a sense of what he's like live.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When Will They Ever Learn, When Will They Ever Learn?

This conference gives me pause for thought in all kinds of ways.

First of all, it was originally intended to be the first conference on Afghanistan's future to be held in the country itself. Yes, well, we can see how that turned out: the international bigwigs, not wishing to wind up a little on the dead side, felt London would be safer. (You hear that, Melanie Phillips? London isn't yet as dangerous as Kabul!)

Also, a conference on "the further progress on the Petersberg agreement from 2001 on the democratization of Afghanistan after the ousting of the Taliban regime" sort of implies that the Taliban regime has been ousted rather than simply driven underground as a resistance movement. And let's be clear, the Taliban are alive and well and living in Helmand and a dozen other bits of Afghanistan. They're being supported by the locals. To an extent that's clearly because of intimidation, though let's not knock intimidation if it works, hey? But there's also - and far beyond any appeals to perversions of Islam - the sense that the Taliban may be bloodthirsty nutters, but they're bloodthirsty Afghan nutters. That doesn't require the British and Americans to do anything incredibly crass (in the way that in Iraq they so mishandled the reconstruction of the country that even people who had been tortured by Saddam ended up pining for the days before the invasion). It's simply that they're foreign, and the Afghans don't do foreign unless it's dead foreign. They saw off the might of the USSR who were right next door. They saw off Alexander the Great, for fuck's sake. They have what the British cops would call "previous": they know they can sit it out and win. They don't need faith in Allah or a belief (however mythical) in umpteen virgins as their reward when they die in battle. All they need is to know that they're Afghans, and Afghans never stay invaded for very long.

Mind you, we don't make it easy for ourselves. Take this aim of the forthcoming conference: "within six months, President Karzai to have a "clear plan" for police training, including dealing with corruption" . That would be the Mohammed Karzai who is President because he rigged the last election, and who is a byword for corruption even by Asian standards. Even the "government" the British and Americans installed in Iraq is less corrupt than Karzai's, though it is spared the necessity of rigging elections by the fact that the US and UK have helpfully banned anyone with any connection to the pre-invasion government from standing for election at all. (Yes, we have brought democracy to Iraq, if by democracy you mean the freedom to vote for whoever your conquerors select to rule you.) It is surely fortunate that most Afghans (unlike most of Saddam's Iraqis) are illiterate and hence unaware of the kind of democracy that we surely aspire to for them as well.

To be succinct: there is no way for an invader to win a military campaign in Afghanistan, but a thousand ways to lose one. The only question is - apologies, Mr Zimmermann - how many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died? Or to put it another way, how many soldiers (and civilians) have to die in pursuit of the phoney "War On Terror" before we can see it as the fruitloop fantasy of imperial domination (ake "regime change") that it always was?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Just a flash in Japan

I still can't decide whether this guy (who died a couple of weeks ago) should go down in history as incredibly lucky or incredibly unlucky. Either way, I'd love to have seen his horoscope for the first week of August 1945. "Monday will go with a real bang, forcing you to rethink your priorities and consider that the rapid pace of modern technological development has its downside. By Thursday you will begin to feel that your life is repeating itself, and a change of life direction will be forced upon you from above. You'll look back on this week as a milestone in your life, but one from which you are happy to move on." Or something.

Or perhaps it told him to beware of the numbers 235 and 239.

In which I finally succumb....

....and purchase an iPhone 3G. More posts will doubtless follow as I curse and swear at my inability to carry out simple tasks (probably including "answering calls" and "sending texts" while waxing lyrical over the availability of downloadable apps such as the tuner/metronome, the birdsong collection, the various identify-the-song-from-the-extract apps, and of course (given my propensity to lose the bloody thing every time I visit an unfamiliar car park) the one that hooks up to the GPS system* to remind you where you parked the car. (The GPS itself of course should reduce my incidence of driving round in circles.)

Still, first things first, and I'm still waiting for my old phone to stop working which will signal the transfer of my number to the new SIM card and allow me to start playing.

All in all, this could be a week when I make rather more personal calls than usual on my good old-fashioned brick of a work mobile....

* Yeah, yeah, I know, duplicated word, the S already stands for "system", yadda yadda yadda, eats shoots and STFU.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cello, cello, cello, what's all this 'ere then?

Hilary and I are both graduates of Durham University, and still get the alumni magazine Durham First. Recently it contained an article about the Extreme Cellists, as two of the three are Durham graduates. I thought I had to share it with you. If the thought of three people playing cello music on English cathedral rooftops, or in Derbyshire caves, or on every street on the (British) Monopoly board in a single day (but why did they omit the stations?) leaves you cold, you've come to the wrong blog, mate.

Here is a couple of pictures from their site showing then playing on the roof at Peterborough and again at Rochester:

They have raised a lot of money for charity, and would seem well worth supporting. I await their next exploit with interest.

Weight loss fail

A friend alerted me to this story in the Times.

I can think of no comment which wouldn't simply detract from the perfection of that story.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I don't in fact own a tuba (though I had a tenor horn on loan for a while as a teenager)

As an enthusiastic neophile with a storage problem and a wife who frequently reminds me of it, I couldn't help identifying with the rat in this cartoon.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Not The Ninth Of January Post

I seem to be on a video posting kick, and we've just been watching a documentary about Not The Nine O'Clock News, the topical sketch show in which Pamela Stephenson, Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith and Rowan Atkinson burst into stardom. Here are a few personal favourites from the show:

For the next one, modern viewers may need reminding that the SPG was the riot police unit of the Metropolitan Police, and was famous for both its heavy-handedness and its barely concealed racism.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Funny what you find

Funny how things work out. I was searching online for the video clip of Benny Hill as Pierre de Terre, French nouvelle vague director, being interviewed by an enormously pretentious Henry McGee and deflating him with his innocent replies. Couldn't find it (the clip had been removed by the user - doh!) but in one of those serendipitous leadings-on from one search to another I found this amazing clip from Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John. I knew the song of course (heck, I bought the record) but I'd never seen any of the film footage. Truly, the past is a foreign country....

And here she is on a TV show with Andy Gibb and Abba doing Beach Boys numbers.

And here, finally, is Olivia doing one of her best songs, Magic (also from Xanadu, in fact, though here in a live performance). She looks great, and sounds great, but doesn't her dancing look dated? Mind you, who cares?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Video ? fun

More audio than video as it's just a slideshow, but this is probably my favourite Status Quo number.

And why post this? Well, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi both received OBEs in the Queen's New Year's honours list. And it couldn't have happened to a pair of nicer - or harder-working - blokes. Thoroughly well deserved. Congratulations, guys.

Video Fun: The Sweet, Paul McCartney

Just before Christmas I was heading home from work and listening to Get It On on Radio Scotland, and they played this record, which I hadn't heard for over thirty years. While I was never a fan of The Sweet at the time, I have to say it sounds pretty good now. I've certainly been humming it quite a bit snce. So here it is, everybody - Wig Wam Bam.

And having been listening to Paul McCartney's Run Devil Run in the car last week in Ballater, I have to give you my favourite track, No Other Baby, as done live at the Cavern Club in 1999:

And my second favourite track, All Shook Up, ditto:

A year early yet to have a Man of the Decade, but a strong contender

Any day now the Chilcot Enquiry will kick off again and we will once again be subjected to a regular barrage of obsequious toadying by Blair groupies in which the Great Pretender will be praised to the heights for having saved Britain from destruction at the hands of a religious madman with WMDs. No wait, sorry, that was Blair: saved Britain from commercial embarrassment by a secular madman without WMDs. That's better.

By way of an antidote, or at least something to take away the taste of the word "Blair", here is an article about a real hero: someone who really did display moral courage of the highest order to try to reduce the threat to us all from clandestine, uninspected and unregulated nuclear weapons. For this he was kidnapped, flung in jail after a show trial whose outcome was never in question, and since his release has been barred from travelling and from speaking to foreigners, so is unable to rejoin his family or, as his most recent arrest shows, enter into a normal relationship with a woman. All this in what laughably terms itself a democracy, and with no breath of condemnation from our government (led for some of that time by Tony the Bringer of Regime Change to Nations with Unregulated WMDs, Provided, Y'know, that it's What George Wants).

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mordechai Vanunu, whose reputation towers over that of the moral pygmies who abducted and imprisoned him, and those of their successive shills in Downing Street and the White House.

When you are Tired of being Humbugged or Experimented on, send to us.

Thanks (if that's quite the word) to my old friend Gill over on LiveJournal for directing me to the following amazing document which has been digitised and preserved for posterity by Project Gutenberg. It's an ad for a sort of 19th century Viagra, but I have to warn you that readers of the male gender may wince somewhat, and suffer flashbacks when they see a pack of crayons. Female readers will be too busy giggling, I suspect.

Manhood Perfectly Restored

Seasonal stuff

Here's a robin we saw on Christmas morning when we went up to Flotterstone for a walk. It didn't seem terribly bothered by us (that's the open hatch of our car it's sitting on).

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Shorter living through chemistry

You may remember that I recently posted about the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. Well, over at Francis Strand's blog I found a link to an interesting post by his niece who managed to arrange a visit to the site (hwich is still full of toxic chemicals which Dow are refusing to clean up, so hats off to the lady for her courage). Here is her post, which is well worth reading.

Please keep your seats

What's that I hear? You want more Kylie? Well this one's a little different.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Still ringing out the old

I didn't watch Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny on BBC2 last night, though I can correct that by means of iPlayer. Still, here is a clip from last year's showing what a great show it is, and what a terrific - and versatile - performer Kylie Minogue is.

Truly, she's not just a pretty, er, face.

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for 2010 to all my readers.

In case you were wondering what I've been doing over New Year, Hilary and I were up at the Ballater flat. I wasn't very well organised: I had managed to forget until the last minute that I was actually on call for 28 December, which is when we'd planned to travel up. So I stayed behind and H went up, stopping off en route to get some skiing at Glenshee where the snow was very good. The next day (Tuesday) I took the train to Aberdeen and the bus from there to Ballater, while Hilary had an amazingly good day's skiing at the Lecht. Not too busy, fabaulous snow and good weather. So the following day we both went back there. I have to say my previous experience of Scottish skiiing had not, on the whole, been all that positive, the words "busy" and "slush" coupled with "grass" being the ones that come to mind. No danger of slush or grass on Wednesday though, with a heavy fall of snow having been followed by days of deeply sub-zero temperatures. We had a good day's skiing and then were fortunate enough to chat to a policeman who had just been told our road back had closed because of drifting snow and the lack of an immediately available gritter. So we piled into the car and headed off for what was now a 70+ mile trip home rather than the 30 or so on the outward leg. Came back over the Dufftown-Rhynie road which is often closed but was still open: famously remote and a bit interesting in places with snow, but passable. Back in time for dinner at Ballater's Italisn restaurant. Then on Hogmanay we had a wander round the golf course in our snowshoes (which we hadnt had a good opportunity to use before) we decamped to Braemar where we spent the evening with our godchildren and their mother, finishing a large jigsaw, drinking, eating, drinking chatting and drinking again. Then it was 2010. This morning we peered out at the not inconsiderable overnight snowfall, waited for the snowplough to clear the road we were staying on, then headed off over Glenshee to Edinburgh. And here we are.

Here's the River Dee at Ballater in the snow:

And here am I, displaying my snowshoes:

Back home with my broadband link, so blog ahoy!

Happy new year again!