Friday, 31 December 2010

2010: The Unbelievable Truth

Can you find the THREE true stories?

In 2010...

...The Scottish Parliament voted to reintroduce dog licences.

...A woman tunnelled out of prison using a dessert spoon.

...A Yorkshire rhubarb farm generated enough electricity from it's crop to power a small housing estate.

...A real life Rocket Man from Warrington sent his daughter's pet hamster into space.

...a New York chef has been serving cheese made from human breast milk.

...A Dutch scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider suggested that instead of looking for smaller and smaller particles, scientists should consider whether or not the universe was not one big particle.

...Postmen in Leeds were terrorised by Tiger, an elderly cat.

...A 10-year-old boy from Warrington became the youngest person to be given a place at Harvard.

 And then, if you enjoy this kind of thing, you can check out Solitary Walker's "Getting To Know You" Quiz...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Works of Art!

This Christmas we've been the lucky recipients of two pictures by local artist -and Trio Gitan fan- Denise Burden. The first one, commissioned by my mum, is of the band ((left to right, Jack, myself and Andy)! The pattern in the background, Denise told me, is the sound of the music.

The other -which Denise herself gave us- was a print called "For Them to Come", after a poem by CP Cavafy. This is a detail from it:

If you like them, have a look at her blog and Etsy shop, where you can find out more about the Cavafy poem.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Three days early, I know...

Personent Hodie by Dominic Rivron

The tune Personent Hodie is one of my favourite "Christmas tunes". Versions of it existed as early as 1360.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


One for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by The Weaver of Grass.

Coincidentally, I was searching through some science blogs this morning when I came across the Zooniverse Planet Hunters citizen science project. If you follow the instructions, you can sit at your computer and take part in the search for planets around other stars using data from NASA's Kepler mission. Apparently, it can be done with computers but, in some respects, people do it better.


One bright stone in Orion's belt -
it took me by surprise
when I saw it through a break in the clouds

(they were scudding away to the East, driven
by a cold wind that sang through the trees
like the sea) as I sat in the dark.

Had the light been on
I would have seen only myself
reflected in the glass

(perhaps as we read or write
this star's light breaks
through a cloud and someone somewhere

sat in the darkness
sees it there)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My kind of Music (6)

When I was in the Sixth Form at school I got involved -though the local youth orchestra- in playing the double bass in some of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Looking back, I realize I had no idea how lucky I was to live in a town where there were sufficient committed young musicians to do this. They are still among my favourite music. There's so much going on, and yet nothing is superfluous. Everyone involved has something interesting to do: everyone is playing a different tune, or part of the tune, all at the same time. As the music flies by, your ear can wander from one instrument to another.

Around the same time I used to meet regularly with a sax player and a clarinetist for sessions of free improvisation (I've just googled them. Ben is now a herbalist and storyteller, Paul still seems to be playing his clarinet in the South Wales Clarinet Choir).

One of the intriguing things about free improvisation in a group is the way the minds of the players work together. It's intriguing in ordinary social situations, using the currency of words and body-language. Dispense with words and interact intuitively with sound and all sorts of things begin to happen. (For example, it's commonplace when you get deeply absorbed in making sounds together to spontaneously end together). I still enjoy making music like this - it's just a case of finding others who share my opinion! I do understand the point of view, too, which says that this form of music making is often more enjoyable for those taking part than for those listening. I've no problem with that, but if people like to listen, they can: it's an adventure, and all kinds of things happen that could never be written down or repeated. I had a look around Youtube to see if I could find anyone doing the kind of thing we did (what fun we'd have had with the internet then, had it been around!). Listening to these guys from Brazil really took me back:

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Essence Vessel

One for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Titus.

MKOM5: Christy Moore

In the Eighties a friend gave me a pile of cassettes of Christy Moore albums, and we used to listen to them in the car, when we first got a car. It reminds me of driving round Scotland in an old Lada estate in the days of cheap petrol (of all the cars I've ever driven, Lada estates were my favourite, but that's another story). I've listened to him on and off for years since, for the words as much as the music. When I first had a go at the guitar, songs I'd heard him sing were the first 3 and 4 chord songs I had a go at: Jimmy MacCarthy's Ride On, in particular (are the lyrics of that song a conscious reference to Yeat's epithaph?). For many of those years, my in-laws had strong Irish connections, and the things he sings about resonated with the things they talked about. Most poignantly, my then father-in-law, Paddy, had, as a child, known some of the people named in Christy's musical Spanish Civil War Memorial, Viva la Quince Brigada.

The song I've embedded here, though, is  probably my favourite. The lyrics put over an idea which could be over-complicated as simply and directly as possible. For me, it's one of the most thoughtful songs going.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Of Swallows, Amazons and Chelsea Buns

Just watched a wonderful documentary on telly. Anyone who knows me of old will probably say "yeah, yeah, just 'cause it's about Arthur Ransome" but, subject matter aside, it was fantastic: Swallows and Amazons: Bristol Old Vic Sets Sail.

If you click on the link, you can watch it - if you've got 47 minutes to spare. What is so impressive about it is the sheer virtuosity of the performers, who have to be actors, mime artists, musicians and dancers by turn. They are forced to change from one to another kaleidoscopically, creating the impression of a wild adventure on an island on a lake, on a stage in a theatre. Not only does it incorporate music, it is almost like a piece of music. If nothing else, it's worth sitting through just to watch Captain Flint walk the plank. And that's just the performers: the contributions of the behind-the-scenes workers are no less virtuosic.

Almost all the snow's melted, leaving the garden and the lane looking dark, wet and grubby. Shame I never got to make a snowman. At least the oil tanker could make it down the lane today. It couldn't get down for the snow and ice on Thursday and I thought for a while that we were going to run out. If we did, we'd be left with no central heating. (Come to think of it, most people in the world don't have central heating -or air conditioning in hot weather- so we would have found ourselves in a pretty big club if we had). Stayed in all day, apart from a brief foray to the shop for a Guardian, a Chelsea bun and a scone (it's all happening! Whoever said life is dull in the country?). Fixed the old PC upstairs -it really didn't like it's wifi connection to the hub at the other side of the house. It now works. I think... Then there was a whole string of silly admin jobs to do. I hate the thought of but actually quite enjoy silly admin jobs, so that wasn't so bad. And after a few minutes procrastination with the paper, a cup of coffee and the Chelsea bun I was ready for anything. 

I wrote some posts about Swallows and Amazons a long time ago. If you've not read any of them but would like to, check out  To the Summit of Kanchenjunga.

Friday, 10 December 2010

My Kind of Music(4)

At university I decided I hated playing in orchestras, and still do. I fell out of love with the double bass.  I had yet to get into jazz, in which the bass comes into its own. I changed to playing the treble viol instead and found myself living in what was for me a far more conducive musical world. I'd visited it before: at home with my parents on Sunday mornings we played chamber music. Friends and acquaintances who played would come round and join in. As the years went by we ended up playing more and more early music.

One of my favourite inhabitants of that world was the English composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). In fact, I wish that in the days when I played the viol (and knew other viol players)  I'd played more of his music. This is a fantasia for three viols - for  me, it's definitely one for the desert island. When I played it just over 30 years ago I don't think I'd ever enjoyed playing a piece of music more:

I'm enjoying writing this series of posts. That worries me a little: it could easily become self indulgent exercise. I'm afraid you'll have to indulge me a bit! It's actually turning into a bit of a voyage of self-discovery for me - the aural equivalent, perhaps, of looking back through a box of old photographs. As with the old photographs, you can sometimes see things there that you were oblivious to at the time.

Pausing for thought, I've just turned the radio on - to find it's playing a piece I'd totally forgotten about, the Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony  No. 5, famously played at Charles and Diana's wedding. Less famously, it was played to death (at 45 rpm) on the bedroom record player, before I'd started to raid the local record library. Listening to it now takes me right back to school, sitting in the chapel and listening to the organ - usually Bach.  It strikes me now how our teachers wanted us to be exposed to good, emotionally rich, interesting music. If there was any conscious effort, it was a conscious effort to exclude music that was deemed unsuitable - at that time, in short, anything that relied on a drum-kit for its sense of movement! Looking back, I'm grateful: I could discover rock music for myself, and I'm glad I was led to try and appreciate the breadth of music's possibilities before I did. I'm sad, though, that it took me years to get round to jazz.

I think we underestimate the way we use music to help shape the minds of young people. I've heard Muslims express surprise at the amount of singing that goes on in Christian worship. It's no surprise to me. If you teach a child -or anyone- a song about something, the music embeds a potent emotional charge in the ideas and images expressed in the lyrics. Most people brought up singing hymns in school assemblies have, deep down, a whole common set of emotional responses to Christmas and the Nativity (to take an obvious example), whatever they have come to believe, intellectually, about faith as adults. I know I have.

I'm not saying this is a wrong thing to do, but that it is simply what we do. It can be wrong, as the Nazis demonstrated in the thirties but, on the whole, it's simply an important part of the way societies socialize their children.  In fact, at the risk of sounding stodgy,  much of my job is about choosing music for children to play and listen to. If we dislike certain aspects of the society we live in, we'll probably feel correspondingly uncomfortable with some of the music we're surrounded with. (To take an obvious example, someone uncomfortable with British patriotism will probably feel ill at ease with Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance). However, whatever kind of society we live in, I suspect we will always use music in this way. It plays a huge part in defining who we are.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Still Looking?

A few days ago I suggested choosing and having a go at answering an All Soul's College essay exam question as a conducive way of passing the time. It's more fun than that brief description suggests - honest. See the original post, here. Two people, to my knowledge, have taken up the challenge so far:

Don't Feed the Pixies wonders who should pay for further education, while

Argent ruminates on the rise of fundamentalism.

Any more takers? There are loads of questions to choose from and there's still time, as far as I know.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

My Kind of Music(3)

When I was at school, it was fashionable to be into progressive rock: Genesis, Rick Wakeman, et al. I came across the latter's Six Wives of Henry the Eighth in a record shop the other week. That took me back - but, to be honest, none of this music really meant much to me. I tried to get into it, since I had friends who were into it, and I must admit that I still have a nostalgic soft spot for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, but if I could rewrite my life I must admit I'd have got into Bowie and Roxy Music instead.

The first non-classical music I really got into, thanks to a friend who introduced me to it, was The Velvet Underground. (We were about 19. He and I would sit up all night talking and listening to them, smoking Woodbines. When we ran out of Woodbines, I hate to admit it, we split open the nubs and rolled them. Thank heavens I gave up). I loved the roughness, and the rich, rhythmic drone The Velvets created. At best they make a sound like some huge, electric sitar. And I still like them, despite the fact that Mo Tucker (the drummer) has been seen at Tea Party events. And then there was Nico...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Looking for something to write about?

A while ago, the Guardian set a group of writers the challenge of answering essay questions from famously difficult All Soul's College exams. Reading through the questions -there are loads of them and some look scary, others straightforward- it struck me that it might be a good idea to unleash the examination questions on the blogosphere, in the form of a meme. Why shoudn't anyone who wants to have a go, just for the hell of it? Simply visit the file of exam papers here, and choose a question. It says choose three, but give yourself a break: choose one. Give yourself an hour or so, and write your answer in the form of a blog-post.

Here goes:

Does it matter whether there is life elsewhere in the universe?

One of the most thought provoking ideas I have ever read about was that of the Von Neumann machine - a machine that is capable of replicating itself. One does not have to think long about such a theoretical machine before one imagines one, by virtue of artificial intelligence, capable of exceeding its original design limitations, of creating offspring we could never even dream of.

I don't know who first suggested it, but it is conceivable that we are ourselves Von Neumann machines, created to who knows what end, by a creator with a great deal more patience than ourselves. Drifting through space on lumps of rock in the form of microbal life we might encounter possible habitats in which to develop  from time to time, there to evolve over millions of years into who knows what.

This is just one of many possible reasons why I might be capable of sitting here, typing this. What I like about it  is that it makes no attempt to explain why I exist: it merely accepts that to do so may well be beyond my mental limitations. It may even be that the need "to explain why" is merely an anthropocentric quirk in human thinking. What I dislike about it is another anthropocentric quirk: the assumption that human life is important, that somehow we might be fulfilling our destiny, even though we have no idea what that destiny might be.

So: my grasp of the reasons behind my own existence is limited. If I'm honest, I'm not even in a position to say whether or not my own life here, on earth, "matters". Like everyone else, all I can do is, as Eliot maintained, "make the best of a bad job" and -to paraphrase most of the great religions and philosophies of life- do my best to love others as I hope they might love me. So, although I'm in no position to comment on the meaning or importance of life, I can at least say that the lives of individuals "matter" to those individuals and to other individuals who rely on them. In this limited sense, it does matter whether there is life elsewhere in the universe. One day they might need us, or we might need them.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Mystery...

Ever since I was 10 (and that was 42 years ago) I've heard this sound on shortwave radios. It occurs at lots of different frequencies here in the UK - for example, 3.39 and 4.57 MHz. I've just listened to a remote German radio on 3.39 MHz, and its there as well, so it isn't that local. Sometimes it fades in and out - like everything else on shortwave radios, but I've never known it to disappear completely while I've been listening. It seems to be ever-present. I have tried listening to a remote Canadian radio - and I'm not sure if I can hear it there or not.

What on (or off) earth is it?

Shortwave Sound by Dominic Rivron

Friday, 3 December 2010

My Kind of Music(2)

It's a good job somebody somewhere could read Beethoven's writing, otherwise the world would be a good deal  poorer. This manuscript is from another piece of music I fell for in my teens: Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. It probably, luckily, coincided with my discovery of Wordsworth. There always was a close kinship between the two.The Prelude, I think, came out in 1799, the Pastoral was finished in 1808. As Richard Osborne puts it:

Beethoven summed up the impact he intended the [6th] symphony to have when he wrote: ‘The whole work can be perceived without description – it is feeling rather than tone-painting’. In other words, it is the spontaneous activity of the mind and the imagination in which Beethoven is interested; and in this he was at one with his contemporary, William Wordsworth. When Wordsworth revised his long autobiographical poem The Prelude, he saw more vividly than ever what Beethoven, writing his ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, was immediately aware of: that his art was not charting landscape or seasons or country happenings, but the interrelationship between landscape and the conscious mind. This is what Beethoven intends when he writes over the opening movement, ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the country’. Later, in the Finale, he becomes the shepherd sharing his sense of thanksgiving and even, perhaps, feeling a slight autumnal chill, the chill of dying life, as the muted horn winds into the distance on the symphony’s final page.

From: A Guide to the Symphony by Richard Osborne

Anyway, for weeks on end I'd come in from school, stick it on the record player and flop on my bed to listen to it. I'd usually start at the beginning. (You can listen to it all on the net - for example, on the Pastoral Symphony Wikipedia Page). This is the 4th movement which, appropriately, interrupts the conventional  four movement structure of the classical symphony: it's a violent thunderstrom that interrupts the previous movement, "the happy gathering of the countryfolk":

Thursday, 2 December 2010

My Kind of Music (1)

A post title lifted from The Solitary Walker. I've been reading through his series of posts about his favourite music and felt moved to emulate it. I often post here about music: usually, however, I write on a "bobbing cork" basis, about something I'm preoccupied or involved with at that moment. I thought it would be a good idea to go back and ask myself what it is I like in music and why.

What do I like? I had a friend many years ago, a sax player, who always maintained that it was the duty of all musicians to take an interest in all music. He had a point. However, I can definitely identify preferences!

I was lucky in that I went to a very musical school. Not only did it provide the choir for Lichfield Cathedral (I wasn't in it), but also pupils were expected to play an instrument if they possibly could. Break-time practice was compulsory, and the school orchestra played at assembly on Saturday (yes, Saturday) mornings. I had a violin shoved under my chin, but had not played it long when the double bass player left. Mr Broadhurst felt my collar as I left chapel one morning: I was the tallest violinist. Did I want to play the double bass?

Playing easy arrangements of classical music in the orchestra (I particularly remember Sullivan's Iolanthe Overture) meant that I had my ears tuned to its language at an impressionable age. In my early teens I raided the local record library and discovered Twentieth Century classical music. I was well and truly hooked on it, particularly Michael Tippett and Stockhausen.

From the very first notes of Michael Tippett's Second Symphony I was mesmerized: I was in the presence of something  intoxicating and full of surprises. How come I'd never heard of this man? You can keep your Benjamin Britten, I thought (I didn't think at all about popular music then). This is where it's at!

The picture is of the same LP cover as the one I found at the library. I have always envied the man his music room (although not his wartime experience of imprisonment).

I can't find it on the internet in a form I can embed into this page, but if you go to Schott's excellent Tippett sound sample page and scroll down to Symphony No 2 (Allegro Vigoroso) you can hear a generous sample of it for yourself. There's loads of bits of Tippett to explore there, too. The earlier music (like this symphony) is the "easiest" to listen to; the later is great too, I think, when you get your ears round it. By the time he wrote his Third Symphony, his sound world was beginning to get more demanding.

As I said, I agreed with my sax player friend, and I regret not listening to more popular music at the time as well. I had to catch up later (and more of that later, if I keep this series going!). I also regret not getting into jazz more when I was younger.  However, I don't regret jumping into the "deep end" of classical music, and I've loved Tippett's music with a passion ever since. I now have two copies of my own of that Argo record - just in case one gets scratched.

In the unlikely event of you liking this piece and wanting a recording of it, go for the Colin Davis/LSO  version discussed here: it's far more exciting than the version conducted by Tippett himself. That version is just too slow! Who can blame him? The music is fiendishly difficult and it was recorded live.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

One Night

So much to think about, so far to go.
The only image that remains is of
Following the tyre-tracks across the snow.

Cold? Perhaps it was, for all I know.
However, all that matters here is love:
So much to think about, so far to go.

The way was slippery, the going, slow.
This one thing counted: I was on the move,
Following the tyre-tracks across the snow.

The future turned on one event, or so
It felt to me, then, when push came to shove:
So much to think about, so far to go,
Following the tyre-tracks across the snow.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Two Zappas

I've never been a Frank Zappa fan. Goodness, I've tried. I even went to see him in Manchester in the seventies. However, I am a newly converted fan of Francesco Zappa, his 18th Century almost-namesake. So was Frank. He was overjoyed to discover Francesco (the similarity was a coincidence) and made an album using his music.

This is a movement from Francesco's String Trio Opus 3 No 6, which I've rendered electronically. I was in the process of arranging it for 3 guitars. However, I decided the music just didn't fit comfortably on that instrument and so as not to waste the work I'd done on it, I decided to make this version. That's not the only reason: Francesco Zappa deserves a wider audience and, as I didn't have a string trio handy to play it, this was the only option...

Francesco Zappa by Dominic Rivron

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Paul Edis

Last night, we went to the Opus 4 jazz club in Darlington -an oasis of cultural excellence if ever I saw one- to see the Paul Edis Sextet. This is an expanded version of The Paul Edis Trio which plays all over the North of England. If you live there, and get a chance, go and see them. They're fantastic.

Their set included a startlingly Monk-like tribute to Thelonious Monk and an arrangement of Bud Powell's Un Poco Loco. The latter was one of the first bits of jazz I ever seriously encountered. Years ago, a friend gave me a pile of mostly unmarked "car tapes". The music on them blew me away, and I only gradually discovered, years later, who the artists on them were. One was Thelonious Monk and one was Bud Powell playing Un Poco Loco, among other things:

Before that, I have to admit, the only jazz I'd really encountered was Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen on The Morcambe and Wise Show. (Although they're not my cup of tea, they are, unbelievably, still at it!). Oscar Peterson was on TV a lot then, too, but I was a young, serious prig in those days, and the glitz and showmanship put me off. (OK, I'll say it before anyone else does: I suppose, now, I'm an old serious prig). I knew, vaguely, that all kinds of interesting music existed between the worlds of Kenny B and free improv, but had never taken the time to find out about it. Where I studied music they never showed you how to do this with a piano, a cig and a hankie. Thelonious Monk:

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Quite by accident I found myself listening to yet more serene music played on a virtually extinct string instrument. In the last post it was the baryton: here it's the theorbo, played by the Swedish lutenist/guitarist Jonas Nordberg. Thanks to The Classical Guitar Blog for drawing my attention to it.

Monday, 1 November 2010

What are you doing in the Piano?

Apologies for not being around for a while. I'm still very busy, what with teaching and playing - not to mention going on holiday to Wales.

I've just been arranging a movement from a Haydn Baryton Trio for three guitars (for three pupils - I've published it on my other blog). I had a look on Youtube to see if I could find the movement I'd arranged - but I couldn't. I found another, though, which I hope illustrates why I don't think there are many composers better than Haydn. Not only is there is a wonderful sense of proportion in his music, but there's a good-naturedness to it, which always seems to shine through. Interestingly, people who knew him used to say what a thoroughly nice chap he was.

Getting a bit carried away, I thought I'd search Youtube for one of my favourite bits of Haydn, and I found it. His Symphony No 6, "Morning", begins with what I think is one of the best portrayals of the dawn in music. The sun rises, in a stately fashion, with strings. Then the birds start singing, in the form of the woodwind. No crude imitations of birdsong, just an impression.

The Burlington Chamber Orchestra is directed by Michael Hopkins:

I don't think translations of Sanskrit were around in Haydn's day (the earliest European translations I've heard of were 19th Century) but I like to think he would have approved of this poem. It certainly goes very well with the opening of the Symphony. I read somewhere that it was by the Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa (who I know very little about):

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday
A dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn. 


And, almost finally, from the sublime to the ridiculous.In case you don't know, the title of the post the first line of a very old musical joke:

Ist person: What are you doing in the piano?
2nd person: I'm hidin'.
1st person: No you're not, Haydn died years ago!


And finally, completely off the subject, (and this shows how long it is since I last blogged) isn't the Poetry Bus Magazine good?

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Versatile Blogger

Thanks to Aqua Marina for nominating me for this award. It's certainly got me writing a post: something I haven't done for a week or two, what with all the teaching and gigging I've been doing. I haven't had much time to read blogs, either. Work certainly has the upper hand at the moment, for which I can't complain.

It kind of requires me to reveal seven facts about myself and then choose a handful of blogs on which to bestow it.

Well, here are the facts. Apparently, I contain:

1. Enough lime to whitewash a small chicken-coop.

2. Enough uranium to drive a nuclear-powered car 5 kms.

3. Enough phosphorus to make 2,200 match heads.

4. Enough iron to make a nail.

5. Enough salt to fill an average saltpot.

6. Enough potash to fire a toy cannon.

7. Enough fat to make seven bars of soap.

From The Miracle of Life (1941). Click to view. Click again to enlarge.
I suppose the idea that stirring up these incongruous ingredients in a pot should produce something that can solve a sudoku might be seen as miraculous. I've always thought the idea of a machine that turns grass into cows and cowpats was pretty miraculous too. But then, Picasso's drawings are pretty miraculous. Picasso once said he'd spent his whole life learning to draw. Picasso's life was the merest flicker compared with the time it took cows to evolve, so perhaps things seem miraculous to me simply because my mind is so small - in which case, perhaps, to a cow, everything seems miraculous. I could go on.

I also "discovered" from the internet that I am a member of the only species known to sleep on it's back. However, I've often seen our cats fast asleep with their legs in the air, so I take this one with a pinch of salt, phosphorus, lime, or whatever.

As for who I'm going to pass this award on to, I've decided to pass it on to anyone reading this who hasn't received it already, and who wants to have a go!

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Last Day

On the face of it, no change:
as you walked down
the heron unfolded himself
and took to the air,

the kingfisher still flew by
like a streaked bullet,
the fish still jumped out
for the hell of it -

but wait a little and you know
something's different:
it would be easy to say
there's a chill in the air

but there isn't. Perhaps
it's inside you: you know
nothing lasts and this
is the end of a Summer,

and that thinking too much
is no good. Even so,
you find yourself grieving
there, by the river.

Written for this week's Poetry Bus, driven by Pure Fiction.
Photo by Karen Rivron

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

So that was August

Oh well, tomorrow will be September - and, for us, the first day of term. No teaching happens until next week - but there's plenty to do organising timetables, fitting in new pupils and sorting out resources. I dread it when it's weeks away, but as it approaches I remember that last September wasn't that bad and well, I actually quite enjoy it. It does mean I won't be blogging quite so much.

I set myself the aim of blogging every day in August. I didn't quite manage it. This will be my 25th post in 31 days: a record for me. One reason for doing it was that when routines are removed -as they are for me for most of the Summer- it's easy for time to pass in a blur, and when you look back it's hard to remember what happened. Your first reaction is that it was time wasted, when in fact it wasn't. Some sort of diary -in the form of a blog- would prevent that this year, I decided.

Today Andy and I went for a swim in the Swale again  - the first time for a while. It seemed as if we were only in the water for a few minutes - although when we got out we checked the time and realised we'd been in it for an hour. This time we ventured further upstream to a long-ish stretch, just deep enough to swim in. Insects were milling around just above the surface. The water was calm, slightly undulating, and having it there, at eye-level, had a deeply calming effect on the mind. The current wasn't that strong today and, swimming up the river in a leisurely fashion we were in some sort of heaven. The kingfisher was out conducting low-flying exercises upstream and down. A fish somewhere up ahead of us kept leaping out of the water: once, just long enough for an image of the fish to register on my mind, I saw it there, in mid-air, just like the pictures you see of jumping whales. Roly the dog either ran along the shoreline or jumped in to swim, racing us from bank to bank. It felt great. It was as if all the living things around us were, like us, making the most of the last day of August: there won't be many more afternoons like this before the autumn kicks in.

Cod Beck Reservoir

© Crown Copyright 2010

Image produced from Ordnance Survey's Get-a-map service.
Image reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey and
Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, Amy, Daniel and I went for a walk around Cod Beck Reservoir, just North of Osmotherley in the North Yorkshire Moors. I've provided a map of the area (see left), although we didn't have one at the time. No map, no compass, no watch... We were very poorly equipped which shouldn't matter, of course, if your just wandering round the lake and back. However, we went off a bit further, through the woods, leaving the paths behind, to the edge of Pamperdale Moor.

There was very little chance of us getting lost, of course. We just had to keep turning left to get back to where we started from. But it was great to wander around off the path, with no names for the places we found ourselves in, and no idea of the time. I realised I was conditioned to know exactly where I was and when it was most of the time and to be without this information felt good, liberating.

We began with a conventional, anticlockwise circuit of the reservoir from the car park, setting off East-ish into the woods once we'd crossed the dam. A faint track leading off the hard-core path was irresistible. There were some interesting ruins, still standing among the pine trees, and the trees were far enough apart for it to be possible to walk between them. It was a magical place: and a great place to lie down, as we did, on the soft pine needles of the forest floor and look up at the light filtering through the high branches. Break over, we continued up through the woods to the fence at the edge (although we didn't know it at the time) of Pamperdale Moor. From there we turned back into the forest and kept exploring until we came to a gate further up the same fence. Here was a sign: there was to be no camping and no walking off the way-marked track. It's amusing to come upon these signs from behind - only to then examine the front to see what it is you shouldn't have done.

We followed a path back to the dam and continued the conventional circuit, singing a Syd Barrett song:

I've got a bike
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.
I'd give it to you if I could,
But I borrowed it.
We came to a very climbable tree at the water's edge, so we climbed it. We sat in it's branches for a while singing snatches of the song, like hippie birds.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


A poem for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Karen. I must admit it's not a new one, but it is about school. I was reminded of it as soon as I read the week's task...


One day at school
our english teacher
handed out the poetry books.

He made us read
a short, sad story of rejection
by one Wole Soyenka.

It seemed
a strange poem to find
in a place like that:
one of those grubby, hardback schoolbooks
full of poems about animals
full of in-your-face similes
illustrating the power of
the english language.

But then
it was not a poem,
the english teacher said. It was
just prose chopped up and
not a rhyme in sight.

He sucked his teeth, in case
a few stray syllables had lodged
between them.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Monsal Dale

Yesterday we went to Monsal Head in the Peak District. I was going to describe it as a village, but it's little more than a pub at a crossroads on the edge of a steep valley known as Monsal Dale. The River Wye (not the famous Wye in Wales) flows through it. None of us had been there before. Karen and Phil wanted to take photos - mainly  of the weir although, as it turned out, it was a very photogenic area, so they took a lot of other photos too (more of these later, once we've processed them). I fancied a swim. The area is a wonderfully rich place to wander around. We followed a path through the woods which led onto a disused railway line, which crossed a spectacular viaduct. We didn't go over the viaduct, as we wanted to find the weir - and the path to the weir lay another way. There is much to explore and we quickly decided we wanted to revisit the place later.

We hadn't got far when we bumped into a couple and got talking. She showed me watercress growing on the river's edge -I wouldn't have recognised it- and recommended the pub, which we went to later. I said I was looking for somewhere to swim and her eyes lit up: she had grown up locally, she said, and had swum in the river often, but the best places were further downstream where it was deeper.

The way to the weir lay through a field full of cows and heifers. They were docile enough and stood looking at us with the usual mixture of innocence and obstinacy. The river to the left of the field looked particularly inviting: it was wide, slow-flowing and deep enough for  a swim. Once we reached the weir, I left the others to snap away, changed behind a bush and lowered myself in. It felt quite warm after a minute or two and I set off upstream, at a slow breaststroke. It was raining gently and, since the water surface was at eye-level, I got a great view of the drops of rain hitting the surface. There were one or two ducks about, the odd duck-feather floating on the surface and the whole place stank of fish (it would, wouldn't it?). Trees lined both banks, although I at last got back to the cow field. Most of the cows were very young and probably hadn't seen a swimmer before: they all looked very startled and  came down to the water edge to watch. Their reaction was the sort one would expect of humans had they seen someone flying, unaided, in the sky. I decided it was time to get out and made for the bank. The edge of the river, where the water was inches deep, was lined with a thick ooze. I couldn't stand up, so I tried crawling out towards the jostling semi-circle of heifers, only my arms sank up to the shoulders before they reached a firm surface, my legs to the thighs. I persevered and, as the bank got closer, so the mud got less deep. The cattle made way for me as I staggered out.

It's great to be able to do things related to a book as you're reading it: to travel round Dublin while reading Ulysses or go for long walks in the woods while reading Lord of the Rings, for example. To be able to go for wild swims while reading Deakin's Waterlog is a real treat. As I made my muddy way along the bank I was reminded of this passage:

I scrambled out with the help of the reeds but still managed to daub myself in a woad of black silt, so that I had to face my walk back along the bank in my swimming trunks, looking like some neolithic erstwhile inhabitant.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Fall and the Zodiac

Inspired by the River Swale and Roger Deakin, I went off to West Burton Falls last night for a moonlight swim. It's a great place which has evolved to the usual Dales limestone design: a horseshoe of cliffs with a waterfall in the middle,  a Malham Cove in miniature. (OK, so these days there's no waterfall at Malham Cove, but there used to be).

I squirmed into my shorts and old trainers in the car and made off down the muddy path towards the roar of the waterfall. There's a pool at the foot of the falls (which fall not into the pool but onto a stone table at the head of it), just big enough to swim in. It was very cold and there was a moment as I got in when I thought I couldn't face it. Don't be a great wuss, I said to myself and, sure enough, once I was in, the water was lovely. I swam a couple of "lengths" of the pool (more like "widths" of the conventional, indoor kind). I was joined, briefly, by a swooping bat. It was great, swimming under trees, dark water at eye-level.


I don't know much about this joint project by Capilla Flamenca (an early music group) and Het Collectief (a contemporary music group). I think I've worked out that it combines early music chosen to relate to the zodiac with pieces from Stockhausen's Tierkreis - 12 short pieces based on aspects of signs of the zodiac, originally written for musical boxes, though often played as chamber music. That's all I can tell you. I like listening to it a lot:

Monday, 23 August 2010


I've just started reading Roger Deakin's Waterlog. So far I've fairly gobbled it up. I was struck by a passage in the first few pages, in which he explains why he set of on a journey swimming around British waterways. I was struck by how he explained, better than I could, two things I've touched on here, recently: firstly the joy of wild swimming (my experience of this has been slight, but intense), and secondly the subversive role of outdoor pursuits in the otherwise humdrum lives of most of us:

So swimming is a rite of passage, a crossing of boundaries; the line of the shore, the bank of the river, the edge of the pool, the surface itself. ... You are in nature, part and parcel of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land and your sense of the present is overwhelming... In wild water you are on equal terms with the animal world around you: in every sense, on the same level. As a swimmer, I can go right up to a frog in the water and it will show more curiosity than fear. The damselflies and dragonflies that crowd the surface of the moat ignore me, just taking off for a moment to allow me to go by, then landing again in my wake...

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled and officially 'interpreted'. There is something in all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official versions of things. A swimming journey would give me access to that part of our world which, like darkness, mist, woods or high mountains, still retains most mystery.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Poem for the Poetry Bus

On the Death of Edwin Morgan

This morning the birds stopped singing
and the sun decided not to rise.
But his voice could never die:
it was heard to say
this will never do.
And at these words
normal service was resumed
(a tad reluctantly).

 The Bus this week is being driven by Chiccoreal.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Had a bit of a lazy day yesterday, what with all the exertions of the day before, but I did put together another Youtube video, using more stills from Hartlepool:

Friday, 20 August 2010

Watch out for the Tea-Drinking Tabby

Laddow Rocks © Copyright John Darch and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Yesterday my son Daniel and I went for a walk in the Peak District. We walked on the Pennine Way from Crowden (site of a camp site and Youth Hostel), over the summit of Black Hill, to the edge of Saddleworth Moor.

We picked a good day for it. It was warm and, although it was cloudy, the cloud was high. The path follows the left side of a valley, running through bracken over undulating ground until it rises up a steep-ish, rounded ridge. We stopped half way up it to eat. From where we sat we had a great across the valley to the other two "big hills" at the start of the Pennine Way:  Bleaklow and, just peeping over the top of it, Kinder Scout.

At the top of the ridge the path turned right and ran along the top of Laddow Rocks (see picture - you can just see the Pennine Way path on the left hand side). After that, I must say the route has a bit of an "are we nearly there yet?" feel to it - surely it's not such a long way to the summit of Black Hill?

It is. The fact that Black Hill is the least high of the three aforementioned hills doesn't mean it's any more compact - like the others, it's made up of a sprawling system of valleys and ridges. One of the great attractions of the area, to me, is the way what appears from a distance to be a fairly obvious lump of land turns out, on closer inspection, to conceal all sorts of nooks and crannies. Streams disappear round corners into steep-sided valleys that you only find when you go exploring. What looks like a straightforward green hilltop turns out to be a patchwork of stream beds, peat groughs and pools. What looks like one hill is in fact a whole range of hills and valleys.

Another great attraction for me is the area's associations. I don't know why, as the early photos are black and white, but something about the heather in flower, the deep greens and reds of the rowan trees, the bracken, and the dark grey gritstone outcrops sets me thinking of the people who came here walking and climbing in the mid-twentieth century. People still walk and climb there, but it was all new to them then. Rambling was a new idea (and sometimes illegal), and the land they rambled over, undiscovered country. The hill would seem bigger, the valleys more mysterious. They were not recreating others' well-documented adventures, or following green dotted lines on Outdoor Leisure maps. They were discovering routes through the hills or climbing and naming routes on the crags they came across. And I have a real soft spot for the names climbers give their climbs. They have a poetry of their own and often say a lot about the lives and times of those who think them up. They are a way for their inventors to stake a claim on the landscape - one (and this is part of the attraction, I think) that a casual passer by would be totally oblivious to. These are just a few of the routes you can climb on Laddow Rocks, for example: Easter Bunny, The Tea Drinking Tabby, Gardener's Question Time, The Pongo Finish, Tuppence Ha'penny (an old one, I suspect), Surfing with the Aliens (a newer one). (If you find this interesting, check out the full list).

We finally made it to the high, distant point in the photo: the summit of Black Hill - the oddly named "Soldier's Lump".  Off to the right is the pretty unsightly but necessary (if you think television is necessary) Holme Moss TV mast which stand at the other end of the summit plateau. It had taken us about two and a half hours to get there, so we stopped for a second time and admired the spectacular view you get from there of the sprawling cities of West Yorkshire. We then headed off along the old Pennine Way path towards Saddleworth Moor. This involved descending a different side of the hill. The path was more interesting: no stiles, no paving slabs over the muddy bits. You were on your own, with nothing but footprints and the occasional small cairn to help you. Far more fun. We finally reached a point where our route was blocked by a network of substantial streams that had carved their way across the moor. You couldn't see much of the water: there were reeds all over and the surface was covered with a substantial mat of bright green vegetation. But it wouldn't hold a person's weight: step on it and it bounced. Put your weight on it and you you sank. We explored, looking for an easy place to cross: we finally found one. However, it took a while and, once on the other side, we realised time was getting on. We hadn't intended to go much further anyway, so we decided to set off back.

We simply reversed our route (as we had always intended), but we didn't linger much on that return trip. The distant clouds looked a bit darker than the ones over our heads so we weren't sure what we'd be in for if we hung around. We got a good pace going back up to the summit. Every now and again you could feel a spot of water on your face. By the time we got back to Laddow Rocks, the odd spot was a sprinkling. By the time we were back down to the foot of the rounded ridge, steady rain was falling. We arrived back at the car seven hours after we'd set out.

We had both enjoyed ourselves. My only regret was that I didn't discover Black Hill years ago. In the past I'd always driven past it to the more alluring world of Kinder Scout and, sometimes, Bleaklow. But although Kinder has a magic few English hills can rival, and Bleaklow is, well, bleaker than most, Black Hill has a charm all of it's own which makes it well worth walking over.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

In Praise of the Harp

I really like the harp. Mozart wrote a Concerto for Flute and Harp. Ravel, an Introduction and Allegro which includes it. I'm fond of both. Then there's this piece by Stockhausen, which I didn't know until I found it on Youtube the other day. Stockhausen had a reputation as a contraversial enfant terrible. Often this made his music more, not less difficult to take in: it clouded the fact that the driving force behind the music of this creator of radical sound-worlds is that of a deeply religious composer.

It's hard to know when you are used to the unusual sound-worlds of twentieth century classical music, but I think this piece might make quite a good "way in" to Stockhausen's music. I think it's delightful.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Life Outside the Box

What a busy day. Well, sort of. A lot of driving was involved. Went to visit the dentist. We still go to the dentist in the area where we used to live. Two reasons:  firstly, we often have reasons to go down there, so it's no hassle, usually, to fit it in. Secondly, he's a very good dentist. Usually, it's an effort to stay awake in his comfiest of dentist's chairs, even when he's performing roadworks in my mouth with frankly medieval-looking instruments (as he was today. I needed a filling. He said he'd a few minutes to spare so he'd do it there and then. And he stuck a pin in it, too, he told me afterwards. And, yes, I almost dropped off).

Stopped at Wetherby Services for coffee on the way back. Surprisingly pleasant. Sat drinking said coffee while watching the A1 through the panoramic window. Had the sensation that the window was a cinema screen, and the comings and goings on the A1 a film. I could have sat there quite a long time.

On the way home we called in at a café - not for more coffee, but because we might get a gig there, if we're lucky.If you don't ask...

There was an article in the Observer on Sunday about the internet and the human brain. Is the internet changing the way our brains work - and if so, for the better or for the worse? I heard something to this effect on the radio recently, too. One of the main planks of the case seems to be that prose on the net is short, so using the net a lot conditions us to have short attention spans. Another is that links encourage us to choose between options as opposed to coming up with additional ideas. On reflection, I decided it was a load of tosh. If anything encourages us to do these things it's newspapers. I found myself consciously leafing through the Observer Review and, yes, my eye grazed the content much as I might graze the net. There were more similarities than differences and I've been doing this every since I started reading newspapers - years before the net came into being. As for choice and creative thinking, I don't think people need the net to slavishly choose as opposed to thinking originally. Socially, original thought is often frowned upon or derided: this goes for everything from social details (coincidentally, this follows on rather nicely from my recent thoughts on "man skirts") to wider political life. For example, whoever heard of an election where, in addition to the candidates, a large box was provided for the voter to write about what he or she might like to happen instead? Think outside the box and your ballot paper is considered spoilt.

The whole thing reminded me rather of the argument that was all the rage in my childhood: comics were bad for the brain and discouraged young people from reading serious books. All tosh, I suspect. The important thing is that young people are encouraged to read gradually more demanding literature - not that they be prevented from reading comics or browsing the net (although moderation, as in all things, may be called for). The biggest internet user I know (a keen game-player, too) is an avid reader of Dostoevsky.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Unusual Happenings...

Roly thinks better of it. Photo: Karen Rivron
Two unusual things happened yesterday. Firstly, during a break in the band rehearsal -spent, as usual on a nice day, on the bank of the River Swale- we decided to go for a swim. I don't remember ever deliberately swimming in a substantial river before, but this was quite an experience. Andy -who lives there- does it regularly and pointed out some dos and don'ts, after which we jumped in or rather, in my case, sat on the rocks on the riverbank and edged in slowly on account of the painfully cold water.

Once in, oddly, it felt warm and I was quickly pulled by the current into a deeper, less turbulent part of the river where it was easier to swim. Suddenly, I couldn't feel the pebbles on the bottom anymore - but at least I felt more in control and could just manage to swim upstream against the current. I swam back towards the rocks. It was a struggle to make headway in the shallower, narrower fast flowing part, and I had to resort to grabbing onto the branches of willow trees to pull myself along. Back at the rocks I thought, why not, and set off downstream again. It was great to get close up to the river, feel the current pulling you, see the ripples on the surface at eye-level, and feel the pebbles and rocks of the riverbed with your feet - instead of simply admiring it from a distance. It was great fun, too. Here's to more wild swimming. (Don't try this at home, as they say. Please don't go jumping into rivers on my account: check out the risks first).

If that wasn't enough excitement for one day, Karen and I were driving through Leyburn in the dark, about 9.15pm, when we saw what I can only describe as a UFO. I use the term in the strictest sense: it was simply a flying object we couldn't identify: I suspect there's a perfectly commonplace explanation for what we saw, but we don't know what it is.

It was a cloudy night. Looking out of the passenger-side window I saw a single light in the sky that seemed to illuminate something above it with an orange glow. I seemed quite close. It was moving Northwards quite slowly.Odd, I thought, that it should be close and slow-moving. Then I thought that it might be a microlight, flying at night (how would it land, I wondered?). At first, what I could see fitted that explanation, but then the "something" seemed to be oblong, the wrong shape for the delta wings of a microlight. Then slightly more of it became visible: there was more to it than the oblong, but exactly how much more was difficult to tell. We'd slowed down, but the car was still moving, and the buildings on our left obscured the view. We turned left in the Market Square and suddenly got a view of the sky again. The light in sky was still there, but it had moved off into the Northeast, and seemed to be a lot further away all of a sudden. At first I thought it was a bright star,and not the light I'd just seen, but the sky was cloudy and it wasn't quite the right colour for a star. Over a few seconds it got fainter and fainter before going out all together (presumably it had disappeared into the cloud).

What was it? It just didn't seem to resemble or behave like any aircraft I've seen before. At first it was low and slow moving then, in a very short space of time, it seemed to be higher up and moving considerably faster. I've heard of the military using small robot planes in Afghanistan and, from my very limited knowledge of such things, I can only assume that this was one of them, or something like it. (There is an RAF base not far away). Or perhaps we were visited by extraterrestrials? Personally, I doubt it, but it's quite amusing to think of someone travelling lightyears on a voyage of discovery only to discover Leyburn. It's a long way to come to discover the teapot shop's shut.

Monday, 16 August 2010

By Popular Request

More than one visitor commenting on my previous post (A Day Out for the Knees) intimated that  I should make my knees public.Yesterday we went to the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival and it just so happens that Karen took this photograph:

It strikes me that there is a meme (argh, no, not a meme!) in this - think of it as a sort of non-competitive knobbly knees contest. Dig out your cameras, angle your laptop built-in webcams, or whatever... Go for it! Knees please! Sorry, I'm getting really silly... But why not? It is August after all.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A Day Out for the Knees

Yesterday the band found itself in Bishop Aukland (a small town South of Durham). We had been hired by the local council to play in the street. We were asked to adopt fancy dress, find a spot in the shopping centre and play - "official busking" if you like.

We all dug out Hawaiian shirts for the occasion. I decided to add to this one of Karen's skirts -dark, knee length- and a snorkeller's facemask (OK, a bit student rag day-sh, but there we are. We should have more fun!). Andy turned up in a straw hat. We spent the afternoon playing half hour sets with short rests in between.

Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, sporting a natty, crenellated little number
Skirts are really comfortable I decided and I was quite sad to take mine off and return to my shapeless jeans, with their pockets full of keys and old receipts. Why don't men wear skirts? There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn't. Jonathan Ross and David Beckham briefly tried to start a trend, as I remember, but it got nowhere. Western men (on the whole: there is the odd regional exception) seem to think skirts "unmanly", whatever that means. Going back in history to the times when men were, by that token, "real men" (i.e., when they all carried swords and killed each other a lot), wearing skirt-like garments was pretty normal. Moreover, there are plently of places round the world where men wear flowing garments, so what's the big deal?

Here's another Trio Gitan Youtube slide-show - using photos that Karen took of us on the riverbank:

Saturday, 14 August 2010



Sooner or later
this had to be.
I'd come to the water
alone -there's just me-

to the boat that's been waiting
here, all this time,
and I'd have to set out
and leave all this behind.

Look to the front,
admire the view:
it won't do to look back,
it just won't do.

One for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Enchanted Oak.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Getting Around

I've stumbled a bit this week: as it is the school holidays, I decided I'd try and write a post every day throughout August.  The gig in Hartlepool put paid to that. Not that I wasn't slaving over a hot computer: I spent the time I would have spent posting -and more- creating Youtube videos (see the gig link).

Sadly, I just can't think of anything for the Poetry Bus, being driven this week by Enchanted Oak. It's a shame, as the prompt is a great one: a picture of an empty boat. Oh well, there's still time - I might yet. Trouble is, my brain has a tendency to either think either about music or words, not both at the same time, and it's rather taken up with music at the moment. There I go: a classic case of what in my previous life as a social worker we would have called "statementing" - making a statement about myself which might actually affect what I do, negatively. (The classic cases are the child who always says they "can't" do something before they do it, or the adult who begins a speech with "I should begin by saying I'm no good at public speaking..." One's biggest critic is usually oneself, so it is essential to make sure that that critic is a helpful -but, critically, not uncritical- one. Sometimes, of course, there may be some truth to the statement: one should strive to be realistic; but, in the end one should realise, it is only a statement and question it constructively).

Went down to West Yorkshire yesterday, paying visits. On the way back the skyscapes were spectacular: dark, lowering clouds, spectacular towering fronts, jumbles of cloud in the distance, rainbows. And it kept raining - short, intense summer rainstorms. The combination of heavy rain and often bright (despite the cloud) light made motorway driving pretty unpleasant, so I turned off and took a scenic route, some of it down roads that were unfamiliar to me, even though they were quite close to home. It was quite refreshing to have to read road-signs.A bit slower, perhaps, but a lot more pleasant. None of the dazzling spray - just the occasional large puddle.

On Monday (I was too taken up with the gig to write about it) we went to Ulverston, to visit my cousin there. Went for a great walk, the three of us, with Jo's dog, along the shore of Morcambe Bay. The tide was out. You can see for miles across the sands, the only blot on the landscape being the distant yet large ugly box that is the nuclear power station at Heysham. It's a great place to be. Something about the space, the sand, the rocks underfoot makes me breathe more easily. After that we went to the (really good)fish and chip shop in Greenodd.

Another gig tomorrow: we're playing in Bishop Auckland town centre (11am). Acoustic, which is always easier as there'll be no lugging of amplifiers to be done. The brief specifies fancy dress, so I'll be getting the Hawaiian shirt out for the occasion, a straw hat perhaps. Anything else? I'll have to have a think.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Trio Gitan - The Tall Ships Races, 2010

Today the band -Trio Gitan- played on the Main Stage at the Tall Ships' Village at the Hartlepool Tall Ships Races 2010.  We were on for an hour and played a set that ranged from Swing 49 and A Night in Tunisia to our jazz take on The Zuton's Valerie. We really enjoyed it and hope that the audience who braved the not-very-summery weather enjoyed it to. It rained heavily for a few minutes towards the end of the set. The people who stuck it out were a real inspiration. When Andy asked if they didn't want to go where it was dry, they replied they couldn't get any wetter, so they might as well stay and listen.

We were really well treated. We even had our own dressing room complete with orange juice, coffee and chocolate bars. Can't be bad. We could see the masts of some of the tall ships from where we were working.  Once we'd packed up, we walked over to have a look - but there was only one left, the Thor Heyerdal (see picture). The engineers very decently provided us with pictures of the performance, which we've used as a slide show for this video. Unfortunately, we weren't able to record ourselves. However, we did record a track last week, Swing 49, so we've used that instead, to accompany the pictures.

And thanks to the anonymous passing person who took our photograph for us, outside the dressing room. As you can see, it was a bit windy on and off:

Monday, 9 August 2010

Something about Rock

Jeanne Iris gave us three options for this weeks Poetry Bus Challenge: poem, song, or flash fiction. Apologies for inventing a fourth. Whatever the word is for "un-flash fact", this is it. What is my favourite sensory summer memory? The smell of warm rock.

I'm not sure when or why I started rock-climbing. I know that when I was very small we went on holiday to Cornwall and I was very impressed by the rocks at Cheddar Gorge (my parents and I slept there one night in the back of our three-wheel Reliant van) and I remember clambering over the rocks at the seaside with a passion. Then we went to Wales, to a hotel near Capel Curig (I was still very young) and I remember feeling powerfully drawn to the tops of the mountains. Some colleagues -I think- of my mother were there. We met, and they talked about climbing in the Llanberis Pass. Later, we drove up the Pass and we could just see people through the mist, climbing on the cliffs (probably Dinas Mot, looking back). It looked like the thing to do!

Probably to "get it out of my system" my dad bought a climbing rope, a karribiner and a book, Know the Game: Rock Climbing. I still have it somewhere: it just came out at the tail-end of the era when people still stuck nails in the soles of their boots (there was much discussion as to the best kinds and the patterns thereof, but that's another story). We spent several afternoons, my dad tied to a fencepost at the top of a quarry, holding my rope as I attempted to climb up it.

After that, there was a gap of some years. I wasn't a particularly athletic teenager. However, once you're into your twenties, working, with a bit of money in your pocket, it occurs to you that you can do more or less whatever you want, within reason. A group of us started to walk - and most of us quickly gravitated to walking up hills. We soon found our way to Tryfan, a Welsh mountain so steep and rocky that it stretches the definition of a "walk" to breaking point. You need your hands. You find yourself face-to-face with the rock and as you work your way up it, you realise you are part of an environment that is usually alien to you and which, if you are so inclined, triggers your more adventurous instincts. In summer it feels warm: you can smell the rock, and it's a smell that lingers on your hands for hours afterwards.

My real chance to rock climb came when we moved to West Yorkshire. The moors in that part of the world are littered with gritstone outcrops: dark, uncanny, rounded natural sculptures that cry out to be climbed. I learned to drive, which made it a lot easier to reach them. I joined a local club and bought some climbing gear. I was never very good at it - I just enjoyed doing it. Rather than aiming to climb harder and harder climbs, I aimed to climb longer and longer ones. Scottish mountains seemed to carry a good selection of huge, technically easy climbs, so Scotland was the place to go. My friend Graham and I climbed quite few.

The end of my serious interest in climbing was a route in Glencoe called Agag's Groove. It takes an obvious line up a tower block-like cliff overlooking Rannoch Moor. The first pitch, which I led, is 90 feet long, as I remember. I found it totally impossible to protect it. I found myself climbing the whole pitch facing the risk of a serious fall. The holds were large, but I had to rely on friction as they sloped outwards. Retreat was impossible and the further I climbed, the more serious the risk became. My hands began to sweat. I had children by then, and it struck me forcibly that risking my life in this way was in my opinion, for me, idiotic and something I definitely did not want to do. Obviously, I survived and, having decided that this might well be my last ever climb, made up my mind to enjoy the rest of it. I have vivid memories of sharing a ledge with Graham on that vertical face, barely large enough to accommodate the soles of three boots, hundreds of feet above the moor, while we arranged our gear to climb the final, exhilarating pitch. It wasn't exactly my last climb, but I'd passed a watershed - I never attempted anything half so challenging after that trip. As the pioneer mountaineer Edmund Whymper put it (and he spoke from experience, having lost several of his colleagues on their ascent of the Matterhorn):

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste: look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.

I still like to get close to rocks and clamber over them - but  nothing too hard, or too high: nothing that demands a rope. There's still something magnetic for me about the touch, the smell and the close-up view of them that will never go away.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

You remember that rainy evenin'...

Yesterday went round to the farm for a musical evening. Fantastic food and lots of wine as usual, followed by the traditional piano duets: The Dolly Suite, The Entry of the Queen of Sheba and Country Gardens. The latter two are quite funny after a few drinks (especially if it's the pianists who've drunk them). Mum's friend Wendy had brought a Ukulele with her and so had I. There was a spare ukulele, too, so we gave Peter, fresh from the piano, a crash-course in uke and we all played Edelweiss and The Sloop John B among other things. Joan played the piano and I swapped ukulele for bass and Joan and I thrashed Bill Bailey (we're talking about the song here, not the comedian). I wish I could remember the words.  I've just checked them out on Wikipedia. I never knew that in the Simpsons episode, Whacking Day Abe Simpson is seen posing as a female cabaret singer in Nazi Germany, singing the song to Adolf Hitler. You learn something every day. I'll have to watch out for it.

Percy Grainger, by the way, was an interesting chap. The Australian composer is remembered today mainly for his folk song pieces (like Country Gardens) but he was quite an innovator, who worked with hand-built music making machines designed to compose music unconstrained by the usual conventions of pitch and rhythm. Unfortunately, I don't think any machine-composed music by him exists, so exactly what Grainger's "free music" sounds like will have to remain the stuff of imagination.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Happy Birthday Natalie D'Arbeloff!

This is not a service I offer as a matter of course -if I did, I'd spend my whole life doing it- but Natalie did post a post this morning "fishing for birthday wishes" so here goes! A quick rendition of what was for many years probably the most copyright-infringed song in the world. Her's is a great blog, by the way, and if you don't read it, check it out. Watch her painting of her parents unfold. Follow her round Paris. Visit the Lucian Freud exhibition at the Pompidou Centre with her. Decide if you're an obsessive creative or a receptive creative...

Friday, 6 August 2010

Tale from the River Bank

Band rehearsal yesterday evening - and photo session. We took our instruments down to the river bank while Karen snapped away. Roly, Andy's three-legged dog, came to help and sing along: his vocals are very impressive and he could easily find himself starring on a reality television show. We've now, thanks to Karen, got over 100 shots of ourselves playing, some of which will be very useful for publicity and others for a Youtube video slideshow. I've posted one of her photos here: (from left to right) Andy, Jack and I, jamming on the banks of the Swale.

We finished playing quite late. When we got home, I took a glass of whisky for a walk down the lane to look at the stars. The hang-glider shaped constellation, Cygnus, was hovering overhead. It was the first dark sky I've noticed for months. The longer I looked, the more stars I could see. There was no sign of that pesky aurora borealis the TV  people keep going on about (there rarely is round here -or in Ireland apparently - although there is an amusing post on aurora hunting over at the watercats, if you haven't read it), although I was lucky enough to see a shooting star later on. Playing music with other like-minded people really leaves me feeling good - I'm reminded, as we hopefully all are from time to time, how good it is to be alive. I also found myself reflecting on the nature of music. I remembered hearing a Sufi musician say how although he was a Muslim when he wasn't making music he couldn't describe himself as such exactly when he was: he felt he existed in a state beyond words where it would be dishonest of him to seperate himself from the mass of humanity, Muslim and non-Muslim. (I heard him speak a long time ago: I hope I've represented what he said correctly). 


Continuing a theme from yesterday -thoughts about famous people from people who were close to them personally- it's back to The Andy Warhol Diaries. Pat Hackett started as Warhol's volunteer secretary and ended up taking down his diary - he'd phone her every day and she'd sit with a pad, noting down everything he told her:

Andy was polite and humble. He rarely told anyone to do things - he'd just ask in a hopeful tone. ... He treated everyone with respect, he never talked down to anyone. And he made everyone feel important, soliciting their opinions and probing with questions about their own lives. He expected everyone who worked for him to do their job, but he was nonetheless grateful when they did - he knew that any degree of conscienciousness was hard to find, even when you paid for it. And he was especially grateful for even the smallest extra thing you might do for him. I never heard anyone say "thank you" more than Andy, and from his tone, you always felt he meant it....
The worse things Andy could think to say about someone was that he was "the kind of person who thinks he's better than you" or, simply, "He thinks he's an intellectual."...
He never took his success for granted, he was thrilled to have it. His uniform humility and courtesy were my two favourite things about him.
Pat Hackett: Introduction to The Andy Warhol Diaries


And finally...