The Ghoulish Week that Was in Edinburgh

Last week was an exhilarating and alarming week in Edinburgh.  Most of the politicos and journos were over in Glasgow for the Scottish Labour Party conference for the second half of it.  This exodus of supposed leftists and vigilant political commentators seems to have left the place unguarded for a number of deleterious developments in Auld Reekie’s cultural life.

No less than three Edinburgh institutions now look set to fall by the wayside in the wake of the bankruptcy of the charity Edinburgh University Settlement.  The charity’s demise has resulted in the forced sale of the premises of The Forest Cafe (pictured), The Roxy Art House and the GRV.  These are surely three venues that will be sorely missed.

The Forest, on Bristo Place, looks set to run for a few more weeks due to a mandatory notice period in their lease, so now’s the time to drop in.  Over the years Forest has provided a multi-function space which houses a café, whole-foods restaurant, venue and the TotalKunst gallery.  I must admit I was never a regular, but it did warm the heart that they were there in the background, staffed only with volunteers, providing free shows, art, and cheap, healthy food.  If you feel strongly about this you should get on to their website, where they’ve launched an earnest campaign to raise a daunting £500K.  If you’re not sure, drop in and have a look at what they do.  This may be your last chance.

The GRV on Guthrie Street was a good old fashioned ‘dive’ in the trendiest sense of the word, and was by no means as idealistic or as well organised as Forest.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this place ended up being opened again along similar lines under different ownership, as I really can’t see many options for the site.  The Roxy, on the other hand, was a fantastic organisation which put on great events in the spirit of supporting new arts and providing cheap nights out.  Sadly, the Roxy’s doors were closed abruptly and permanently last week and there’s no chance of a last hurrah.

On the plus side, I had the pleasure on Halloween night of attending the Wee Folk club, downstairs in the Royal Oak, where Duncan Drever played a wonderful hour and a half of quality music for an audience which seemed to consist of female German students, two old men, and me.  Duncan’s brother is the well-known Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, but Kris shouldn’t rest on his laurels: Duncan is a great up-and-coming act and you can hear a couple of his songs here.

Donate to help the Forest survive here.

Woodhenge!

It’s official. Archaeologists have discovered a second henge in the proximity of Stonehenge in the Wiltshire countryside.  Evidently made of timber, this second henge mirrors the classic in formation, consisting of a circular ditch which surrounds a circle of pits which archaeologist Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham believes supported the bases of timber posts.

Very exciting stuff.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpaG-L0zTJ4

What did you think o’ that Dad? Lennon gets Naked for the Fatherhood season

Last night BBC4 aired the intriguing Lennon Naked drama, starring Christopher Eccleston as the man himself with Naoko Mori mainly standing around in the background playing Yoko Ono standing around in the background.  Billed as part of the BBC’s Fatherhood season, the drama is set around various real and fictive family settings from the Beatles to John’s first family, showing, er, their ultimate demise.

It’s no surprise that two key relationships highlighted are John’s with his father Alfred and John’s with his first son, poor old Julian Lennon.  In this respect last night’s feature had something sort-of new to say in that it attempted to demonstrate that John passed much of the problems he had with his father straight down to Julian.

Christopher Fairbank plays a believable and sympathetic Alfred Lennon.  But while Eccleston portrays a relatively convincing, enigmatic John, he is far less kind to the Beatle than Fairbank is to his father, presenting a self-obsessed, cruel megalomaniac who thinks he’s Jesus (Commodus anyone?).  We have to admit, though, Eccleston does a good enough job, despite the grating scouse accent.  What’s more, Alfred Lennon and John Lennon are two acting gigs which are poles apart: Fairbank has an awful lot of freedom to interpret Alfred and I can’t help feeling that he enjoyed filming this more than Eccleston, whose role demanded careful study and imitation, and promised more than a little mockery if not followed through successfully.  Related to this point, it has to be said that Eccleston really shines as John when he’s portrtaying him in his private life, away from the toe curling Beatles’ banter with the press, which allows scarce little room for interpretation.

Overall, this is a drama worth seeing, but one or two things annoyed me about it.  Mainly, the use of archive footage of the Beatles.  You’re filming a drama – make your own footage!  I know, I know, you can’t exactly fill up a baseball stadium for a TV drama, but come on, we all know the Beatles and their music, we believe they were successful.  This is a story of private lives, so why bother?  The worst thing about the footage was that it also focused on shots of various Beatles and Yoko jumping in and out of cars and planes and things in the middle in the story.  The problem here is that the veil of believability is torn down each time it happenes: just when you get into the swing of Eccleston as Lennon, they show you the real Lennon, and you think, ‘That’s what he looked like. I remember now’!  And poor old Eccleston has to start from scratch.  This is further added to by the fact that there are four Beatles and Yoko Ono for the viewer to accept, and the effect is the same for all of them.   The one enigma (as always) is George Harrison.  I wasn’t sure where Jack Morgan was going at all with this, although maybe it was a casting (or hair and makeup!) issue.  Andrew Scott and Craig Cheetham play a reasonable Paul and Ringo respectively.

We never hear of John’s death, only that he was not to return to the UK once settled in the States.  One of the twists of Lennon’s life and untimely death which this drama highlights is his unfinished family business.  In this portrayal, you can’t help but feel sorry for Alfred and Julian, and land a lot of the blame for the persistence of family difficulties on John himself, despite his difficult upbringing.  Furthermore, the connection between three Lennon generations and the repeated mistakes highlighted here makes one wish that John had lived to an older age if only to feel the pain Alfred felt and understand and make ammends for his own mistakes, as Alfred tries to.  By the way, and just for the record: Eccleston and Mori do get naked, just the once.

Faults aside, a worthy addition to the Fatherhood season.

Disturbing Musical Tastes

Music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 9:39 am

Recently, the Comely Banking Crisis featured a post which, despite amounting to a selfless endeavour to share some quite extraordinary musical experiences, quite frankly fell flat.  The problem?  The music was far too obscure.  And weird.  And the taste, slightly disturbing.

And I’m afraid this issue runs beyond the blog and into one’s personal Facebook activity also.  Recently I tearfully shared knowledge of the death of the great Ronnie James Dio, a man who performed with both Rainbow and Black Sabbath – a truely lovely man with the voice of an angel (a heavy metal angel, obviously) – and got not so much as a ‘like’, lol, OMFG, or any such acknowledgement of shared grief.  The man is credited with popularizing the ‘devil horns’ sign!  The problem?  Dispite Dio’s dinosaur stature in a particular sub-genre, too obscure again!

So if you’re unfortunate enough not to know his work, give him a try.  He’s dead now so we should all do the decent thing and try to make him more famous than he was while alive.  I’m sure the current atmosphere of fondness for classic rock and metal stemming from underlying mockery à la Spinal Tap will help nay-sayers appreciate this 1977 clip of Dio with Rainbow performing Kill the King in Munich.  This is the stuff metal legends are made of:

On another dodgy musical front, this is Eurovision weekend!  Where will you be?  I know where I’ll be: at home, with friends, taking in the ENTIRE broadcast and attending my own glitzy after party.  Love the Euro!  Love the Eurovision!  Because that is what’s wrong with Europe and the Euro at the moment: not enough Euro-love!

Disturbing musical tastes indeed.

The Prisoner: 1 gem, 1 ITV show and some very strange 80s rock

Portmeirion in less weird times

I’ve finally managed to watch The Prisoner (the new one).  Did you see it?  What did you think of it?  Hmmmm, I hated it at the start, then got over my prejudice a little and finally was caught up in the action through the second half.  All they had to do was pull a Lost, a ‘polar-bear-in-the-jungle’ moment, ‘Korean-man-who-can’t-speak-English-suddenly-speaking-English’, ‘unexpected-coconut-in-your-bed’, whatever unusual, freakish combination works.  The prisoner had ‘massive-anchor-in-the-desert’, and from then on the hairs were raising on the back of my neck even though I didn’t like it all that much.  A little touch of the weird is all it takes.

The use of the endless desert in the 2009 remake of The Prisoner with no sea or any places besides ‘the Village’ that anybody’s ever heard of is reasonably good in terms of creepy (there was also something a little League of Gentlemen about it, but that’s the Prisoner for you).  It obviously doesn’t match the brilliance of the original Prisoner of 1967 for sheer bizarre surreality and the strange-fest that is the real Welsh village of Portmeirion at the best of times.

But let’s not be too hard on it: it’s not as if the markers of this new Prisoner took all copies of the old and burned them, or added stupid CG elements that we all hate.  We still have the classic and it remains untarnished.  So let’s view this new one’s spurious connection to the classic as an opportunity and nothing more.  The makers of the 2009 Prisoner were out to remake something famously weird, and so they had license to make something weird-ish.  And weird-ish is okay.  A start.  Better than Lark Rise to Candleford!

But enough of that!  The real reason for mentioning all this was to share two good recollections besides the original Prisoner, both tributes to it.  The second is better than the first, but it takes a little more effort.

1. Iron Maiden, The Prisoner

A classic metal track from the 1982 Number of the Beast Album; a classic NWOBHM tribute to a classic. Love it.

2. Devil Doll, The Girl Who Was… Death

Bear with me on this one; there’s a gem on the way, I promise!!  Back many years ago before there were shops, I used to spend a lot of time as a nerdy teenage musico, browsing distribution lists of CDs, tapes and vinyls other nerds made available for nerds like me to swap or order through the post.  This postal method did not normally carry the technology to facilitate listing to a sample (although some of the nerds used to make mixtapes for their nerdy pen-friends for this precise reason).  What I’m trying to say is that you ordered most of your music blind!  (Or deaf?)  Whichever.  Possibly the best result I ever got from this gravy train was the intriguingly Italian-Slovenian band Devil Doll and the album was The Girl Who Was… Death.

What was immediately bamboozling was that the entire album was on a CD with only one track!  Furthermore, the band had eight members lead by the memorably named Mr Doctor.  And there was the sound of the thing!  To be honest I’m disappointed that the youtube reproduction is split into sections, contra the original spirit off the low-budget CD, but there you are.  Here is how the moody, atmospheric album starts (not as important as the next part, though):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu-3BC3I1Bo

Reasonably conservative stuff, I assure you.  If you think that was in any way odd, AT ALL, forget about it!! It’s just about to get interesting, and excellent!  Listen if you dare:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7Xs-P-HKUg

I love it.  I can’t fault it at all!  So weird, so good!  “…the ironic waters of the cosmos”?!  And was that Eddie Van Halen with a fiddle?!  Weird.

Weird like The Prisoner? Well, as it happens, the freak-show that is The Girl Who Was…Death indeed has a lot to do with The Prisoner, because just when you think you’ve finished, when you’ve seemingly reached the end of that single 60-minute-plus track, there’s a bonus track!  (All on the same, single CD track of course.)

Devil Doll took that one step Iron Maiden didn’t dare: they recorded a strange rock version of the theme music from the 60s classic!  And here we are.  Enjoy the hell out of it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ4DKCaP6Nk&feature=related

Supergrass officially split but is it really the end?

The Bad News

Oh dear, well first of all it’s absolutely official: we got the sad news on Monday that Oxford rockers Supergrass have finally decided to call it a day after 17 years and six studio albums.  And we have two official reasons to contend with: a “17-year itch” and – hey presto! -“musical differences”.   But I’m told by an insider that it’s “all good”: the breakup was amicable and the members of the band will no doubt continue with their musical careers in different directions. 

The Memories

You’ll have difficulty finding anyone of a certain age who doesn’t have some fond memory of the band and their cheeky, kick-arse sound.  I for one associate their earlier Caught by the Fuzz/Alright stuff from the I Should Coco album with teenage angst (that’s not their fault!) and developments in songs like Richard III, Late in  the Day, and Moving, like many others, with my university years.  I had the pleasure of seeing them play three times, the last of which was in the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh (oh, double grief!) in March 2008.  It’s a testament to the band’s enduring quality and appeal that this gig rocked and so did Diamond Hoo Ha, their final allbum which they were plugging at the time.  

And let’s not forget about their interesting foray into the world of the folksy, bluesy, string and melodic whatever-you-call-it music in Road to Rouen.  While many saw this as an unexpectedly somber album which reflected a difficult period in the band’s career and personal lives, you can’t help respecting their ability to change and experiment, nor can you deny that their cheeky, edgy sound breaks through on this record and complements its contemplative edge.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Is this really the end?  First things first, let’s focus on the immediate future, which promises a brief farewell tour, with the band playing gigs in Glasgow, London, Manchester and finally Paris on the 11th June.  I’ll tell you now: I’m in the market for a Glasgow ticket, but what a fantastic reason to go to Paris! 

And further ahead? Well, for two reasons I’m very optimistic that we’ll see some of the old magic before too long.  Firstly, judging by what the band have been doing image-wise (i.e. fecking around with alternative identities like Diamond Hoo Ha Men and The Hot Rats), it’s clear that some of the boys’ creative juices are flowing strongly and they’re evidently poised to develop new ideas, and indeed have already been toying with them.  Secondly, I look to the Coombes brothers, three of whom were on the line-up on the last tour.  You might call it quits on the band, but family is family!  Have a listen to Charlie Coombes and the New Breed for a taste of this.

My bets?  I’d look out for more from the likes of the Hot Rats, but I suspect there’ll be considerably more still.

Some Variations on a Musical Theme

Ever since I first watched it as a teenager, I’ve been a huge fan of Tous les Matins du Monde.  The 1991 film is a dramatisation of the relationship between the French baroque composer Marin Marias (played by the late Guillaume Depardieu and in some scenes by his father Gerard) and his teacher the mysterious Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle).   

The plot of the film is framed with a lot of sadness.  Sainte Colombe, the master, is sad due to the loss of his wife; Marais is sad because his voice is breaking and he can no longer sing in a boys’ choir.  Marais pesters Sainte-Colombe for viol lessons and the latter capitulates only because he is touched by Marais’s sadness.  But Marais is a brat and disrespects Sainte-Columbe’s philosophy (and daughters) and makes him angry and sad.  But ultimately Marais is sad as a result of his shallowness and misdeeds.  And that’s pretty much it!!   

I would forgive anyone who has seen this film and thought it morose, depressing, and short on dialioge.  Indeed it is all of the above!  But I like to get past that and enjoy the music, and I find that taking some time to consider and appreciate the soundtrack brings one back into the film’s compelling story, whose central character is surely the music itself.   

Or perhaps the music forms two characters: one paralleling the sad, regretful and puritalical Sainte-Colombe (this character dominates), and the other the amitious future court composer Marais.  Very little is known of the real Sainte-Colombe and this adds intrigue to the experience of seeing him re-enacted as the reluctant teacher and widower.   

One of the most popular scenes from the film, however, includes music composed by neither Marais nor Sainte-Colombe.  The young upstart Marais visits Sainte-Colombe to audition to be his student and is asked to improvise on Folies d’Espagne (The Follies of Spain), and the hauntingly beautiful result is as follows.   

Here Depardieu is miming over the great contemporary Catalan viol player Jordi Savall, whose adaptation and performance of much of the music for the film are highlights.  I’ve always enjoyed this scene and the piece is variously called La Folia/Follia, Les Folies, or Folies d’Espagne.   

One of the oldest known European musical themes, Follies‘ composer is not known and it is thought to originate from Iberia in the late 15th century.  More than 150 composers have incorporated it into their music in some way or other, but many baroque composers have focused on composing variations of the theme itself rather than simply incorporating it into something else.   

Sound good?  Here’s a version of the theme arranged by Marin Marais’s other teacher (not dealt with in the film), the also-great, Florenese baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.   

This version is fairly conservative, but it’s relative simplicity leaves the theme free to be enjoyed on its own terms.  For something quite different, have a listen to Antonio Vivaldi‘s later, punchier, and considerably more expressive variation.   

There are plenty of other versions available to listen to on youtube, but I shouldn’t push it.  If you’ve been so kind as to listen to the three posted here, I suspected you’ve had enough of it by now!   

Tous les Matins du Monde won seven César awards in 1992 including Best Music Written for a Film for Jordi Savall’s arrangements and was nominated for a Golden Globe the folllowing year.  Tragically, Guillaume Depardieu died of pneumonia in October 2008 aged 37.

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