Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

A few weeks back, I went to see Neil Young at the Academy. This represents quite a few firsts for me: although I’ve loved his stuff for years, this is the first time that I have seen Neil Young live, and likewise Crazy Horse. It’s also the first gig that I have been to for quite a while. I have never got over the sense of excitement of live music and this has only been increased by its rarity. I was definately looking forward to it.

Set against this, the Metro Arena is not my favourite sort of venue. Large venues such as this are fairly soulless places. The arena fits squarely into this category; like a football stadium, seats too small and uncomfortable. Moving around involves lots of shuffling around in big queues.

The stage set consisted of a Crazy Horse banner, some enormous packing cases, and video screens set in old style TV casing. All of this rather swamped Los Lobos, who none the less did a good support set.

The packing cases were the first sign of the melodrama of the evening; with the rather strange sight of roadies dressed up as mad scientists running around, these were lifted up to reveal the set of enormous amps familiar from Weld, backed by Day in the Life. This was a complete revelation; played loud over a big sound system with all the resonance of an arena, it’s a totally different song. Dramatic, exiciting; the John Lennon vocals in the second pattern were haunting, and the orchestral finale were stupendous, leaving the audience stunned.

This was followed by a slightly cheesy rendition of the national anthem, and then straight into Love and Only Love; this really summed the rest of the night up. It was loud, long and overblown. And, yet, somehow they get away with it. The songs are simple and direct. Despite the theatrics, at heart its just a bunch of guys on stage, hunched over their instruments playing in a way which cuts through all the messing, takes you into the music and carries you away. It’s live music and more over it is music that is at its best live. You need it there in front on your to appreciate it to its full extent.

There are times when, perhaps, it feels like one too many thudding chord changes too many, one too many feedback-laced false ending, but I didn’t care. I’ve been listening to some of these songs for 20 years now; the band is now all in their late 60s or 70s, and some of the songs over 40 years old. But, to me, it felt fresh; I dont know if I will ever get to see them live again, but I am glad that I have seen them once. A great gig for me.

It has been a long, long time since my last gig review. As this blog is mostly professional now, this is perhaps not such a bad thing. I did half write a review of Roy Harper and Joanna Newsome in Sept last year, but it never got posted. Don’t think I have been to gig since then. Still onwards.

I’ve been a fan of June Tabor for a long time, particularly her album with Martin Simpson even if it does have terrible cover art. Despite this, and the fact that she lives pretty close to my home town, I’ve never seen her live. Her music is dark and eclectic, her voice rich. Combined with the Oysterband’s tendency to do strange adaptations folk-style it was destined to be an interesting gig. The music is something like gothic folk if that is not a contradiction in terms. While singing, June Tabor comes as a foreboding presence on stage. Between songs though, she’s entertaining, witty and light, which was a bit of a relief.

The gig was fantastic. Her voice is as excellent live as on record, with adding prescence. She adds to the music by, erm, explaining what it is all about (this can be something of a problem otherwise). The evening was well managed, moving from gentle and quieter music to end-of-evening barnstormers. It was good to be listening to live music again.

But one thing I didn’t understand. Why does Ray Cooper stand on a box while playing bass? He’s already the tallest.

My first visit to Oslo was in 2006. That time, it was for work and we were some distance away from town. I remember the flight in gave a dramatic impression, and I remember sitting in the conference centre, looking over the hill side, breathing in the thick scent of pine watching the sun slowing crawl toward the horizon at about 11pm. I only got into town the once, on the last night, and saw little of it which I was disappointed about. My second visit to Norway was to Trondheim and I enjoyed that as well.

So I was looking forward to visiting Oslo again, for a few days, doing the tourist thing. But I am afraid that I have been disappointed again; this city has not really grabbed me. The architecture is impressive at points, but there is a random, thrown-together quality about the city overall; nothing to rival the magnificence that is Grainger Town in Newcastle. And some of the signature buildings are, again, just okay; the Opera House has a roof you can walk up, but that seems to be it. The night time is subdued to say the least, and the food is okay at best. The only stand out feature seems to be an extra-ordinary number of sculptures — mostly bronzes, and often not famous people. Lots of nudes in heroic poses; the number involving seals is also distinctly above the average.

Of the two best things I have seen are, first the Sculpture Park. Very classically laid out garden, but with some really very good sculpture, full of character and life. And seals. And second, the folk museum, which shows Norweigian life and buildings at different stages of history. I have to admit, though, that I was at a loss to see the difference, because over the last 4-500 years, this seems to basically have involved making robust, timber buildings on stilts. While the museum is good, I think, having less buildings, but better explained would improve it. When you get down to it, one wooden farmhouse looks very like another, especially when you can see it only from the outside.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though has been the accessibility for pushchairs. In Oslo, this is never an afterthought; they just have not thought about it at all. The tram doors slam on you if you take too long, which may happen if, say, you are struggling to get a heavy, unwieldy, pram-shaped object through a narrow door. My visit to the Opera House was limited to walking around the lobby, as walking up a sloping roof, with nothing but “slippery when wet” signs to break a clear run to the fjord is not my idea of fun. My visit to the National Gallery involved 20 steps to get in, to discover that the pushchairs are banned in the exhibition area; still, hey, you can visit the shop. Looking through the door of the National Museum (only 10 stairs up) and I could see a line of buggies next to the security guard. I didn’t even bother.

This blog has been alive now since Feb 2006. It started with a relatively uneven tone, as many blogs do, moving between the personal and the professional, the and the, erm, less trivial; the first posts were a mildly witty observation about an airport, a review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a discussion on semantic enrichment of literature which seems as true then as now.

I think that it has now reached a more even state — it’s generally moving in a more professional blog while, perhaps ironically, my profession has moved more toward blogging. It contains very little of my personal life for reasons explained earlier.

I would like to beg the indulgence of my readers, both of whom know this anyway, by using my blog to announce the birth of our son, Sean Maioli Lord on 7th Dec 2010. He was 3.42 kg at birth

That’s it. I have no intention of this becoming a mawkish, baby-related blog. I do have one post that I may or may not write on the biology of babies. Please feel to stop me if it goes on too much.

Elba was a lot of fun; it’s very biased toward beaches, but there are plenty of these, they are easy to get to and, generally, free. For my money, the best of these ones that we went to were Aquavivata (or something like that) and Sansone (next to each other — I swam to the latter) and Capo Bianco. Both of these are withing spitting distance of Portoferraio. which is the biggest town. It turns out that Capo Bianco is part of a marine reserve, which explains, with no fishing; this probably explains why the place was so rich with life that otherwise would have ended up on pasta. But, with a pebble beach, a slow sloping seabed still only 1 or 2m in depth some 50m from shore and with many rocks, and a headland it’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling.

As well as Elba, I got to Pianosa. This is an ex-penal colony, with no permanent residents. It’s a strange place, full of mystery and excellent snorkelling. It’s also full of history, occuring in two of my favorite books; first, Posthumous Agrippa was exiled and later killed here, as is told in I, Claudius. The exact site isn’t known, but the seem to have found his swimming pool. And, secondly, Pianosa is the setting for Catch-22, although it in reality, it’s too small to have contained the events; I didn’t manage to find out whether it was occupied during the war, but it didn’t have a airbase. The whole place is a marine reserve, and the snorkelling was the only place which beat Capo Bianco. Beautiful though Pianosa is, there is a fly in the ointment, which is the Zecce on the island; the place is infested with ticks, which means that you have a reasonable chance of coming home with a blood-sucking monstrosity attacked to any accessible capillary.

After Elba, I’ve come to Lake Garda. All the Italians are complaining that it’s caldissimo; of course, back in Newcastle, they all complain it’s not hot enough. Never satisfied with the weather; just like the British.

The last holiday that I went on produced a long stream of blog posts; this one, I suspect will result in only one or two, which reflects the different character of places. India is a place of conflicts, confusion and excitement; Elba, on the other hand, is a holiday resort, universal beautiful, relaxed; in short, wonderful for swimming, sitting on the beach and general relaxation, but not so wonderful for writing about on a blog.

I took the train from Rome to Piombino Maritima; as with other times, the Italian trains beat the British equivalent easily. While, in some ways, they are not quite as nice inside, they are plentiful, ontime and cheap; the 15 Euro I paid for a three hour journey would hardly get me past the platform in Britain. Piombino itself, appears to be a scenic chemical factory, while Piombino Martima is a working ferry terminus, which says it all.

Elba itself is much, much prettier; a small island, with a large mountain range in the middle. A lesser nation would have built towns around the edge, but, as this is Italy, there are also improbable towns cemented onto impossible slopes, with hair-pin roads snaking inbetween. At this time of the year, though, the focus is on the beaches; I’d love to attempt the 1000m walk to the highest peak, but in this climate, the water, sun-tan cream, and sun umbrella would just weigh me down too much. I think coming back in April for hills, plants and geology would be excellent, though.

Speaking of the beaches, well, there are many. Many of these are hopelessly over-crowded, but some are a little quieter, without motor boats. The swimming is, on the whole, excellent; I bought some flippers which I’m having great fun with; I can dive deeper and stay down far longer, whizzing along through the shoals of fish.

Marciana Marina, where we are staying, is lovely, with a long promenade, several sheltered harbour beachs, and a pebble beach at the end, open to the sea. There is a jazz festival on in the main square; I get the impression they have pretty regular events there, but we’ve lucked out here. The standard has been very high, covering big band, modern trios and a jazz harpist. I’ve enjoyed it all; the crooner with the big band sang standards with a Italian accent, which was strange, but good.

In the relaxation of a beach holiday, I’ve been thinking daft ideas, which I may write about later. One was language teaching related — it’s got a crazy acronym which is Progressive Inculcation of Language by Listening to Stories (PILLS). The second was a design for inflatible flippers, which would work in the water but would also be good for walking outside. And, finally, an idea for domesticated bats as a method for insect control.

Maybe, I’ll write about them. Or, maybe not.