20 November 2014

An emotional musical tale that has lasted twenty years

Music has played an important part in my life for many years, much of which is reflected in this blog, because it has the power to do things with memory that not much else can.

Correspondences by The Tea Party is a case in point.

Back in 1993 when The Tea Party's second album (that's twenty years ago!) Splendor Solis came out I was buying all my vinyl from the imaginatively named The Record Shop in Fife Road, as did everybody else. I can remember clearly going in to the shop and hearing something playing that I really liked, asking the long-haired man behind the counter who it was and being told that it was The Tea Party and they were a mix of The Doors and Led Zeppelin. I bought the album and agreed with his description.

And two years later I bought their next album, the edge of twilight. The cover says it all really, you do not need to hear the album to know what it sounds like.

For some weeks the anthem Correspondences fuelled my daily dashes down to Winchester where I was working at the time. The lyrics chimed with my circumstances and the music was very powerful. I sang along very loudly and felt much better for doing so.

Then other music came along and, apart from the occasional flash-back, that was it. Until tonight.

One of the bands playing at the Grey Horse Open Mic Night did a song that reminded of the Tea Party and thanks to the technologies in my pocket, iPhone with iTunes, I was able to download Correspondences immediately. Being a cheapskate I paid 79p for a live version from 2012 rather than 99p for the original. The live version is also a little longer at 8:19 minutes.

I've played it three times so far this evening.

19 November 2014

Open Mic Night at the Grey Horse (19 November 14)

My walks home from Kingston often include a slight detour to the Grey Horse and that is how I found myself there on this Wednesday evening. I was hoping that it was an Open Mic Night, and it was.

The set up was much the same as ever and that is no bad thing. One slight change was that the pub ran out of Young's Ordinary after my first pint and I had to move on to the Naked Ladies, which was fine.

The music was fine too. Having popped in for a quick pint I ended up having a slow three to enjoy more of the music and to talk to more people. It was another jolly evening and I will miss them when the Grey Horse comes under "new management" in the new year.

Discovering art on the Caledonian Road

It has been a while since I have had the opportunity or the time to go for a lunchtime walk around our Kings Place office and I was not intending to do so this day either but the Kings Place Gallery was being used for an event so I was forced outside.

At first I headed for the obvious place, Central Saint Martins, where the cranes were busy on the next stage of work that that will include a Waitrose and a Cookery School. I'll have to wait until late 2015 to see what that looks like.

From there I headed for the disused York Road tube station. I hope that features in the redevelopment plans for the area and it would make my journey to work easier if it were to reopen as a Piccadilly Line station.

I could have walked straight down York Way to the office but I was enjoying my rare time outside so I went along Copenhagen Street instead.

Where Copenhagen Streets meets Caledonian Road I found this work of art. It was in the tarmaced area around a block of flats on the corner. Some of the space on the ground floor had been converted to an arts club and I presume that they were responsible for the work; local art by local people for local people.

Buoyed by my artistic discovery I ended my lunchtime stroll by heading down the scruffy Caledonian Road and then along the tranquil Regent's Canal back to Kings Place.

It was a short but good walk and I've learned a lesson from it. I need to get out more.

12 November 2014

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (November 2014)

Another month, another BCSA "Get to Know You" Social, another good evening.

The ingredients were much the same as usual. My chosen food, Smazeny Syr, was the least surprising thing and the waiter had written my choice down before I told him what it was. I started the evening on the usual Pilsner Urquell but managed to vary from the plan by getting a special Pilsner Urquell glass (pictured) rather than the usual jug.

The mix of people was much the same too though I was glad that we spent more time talking in English this month. The mix included some regulars, e.g. Lubo and Ruzena, as well as some people joining us for the first or second time. This mix is one of the reasons that these evenings work so well.

The only negative part of the evening was hearing how one of the people there was being subjected to some racial harassment having moved slightly out of London to a town where foreign nationals are not commonplace.

The other conversations were more positive and the evening flew past. I am not sure why the bar closes at 10:30pm (what did happen to the 24 hour drinking that Tony Blair promised us?) but that is probably a good thing as it takes me just over an hour to get home from them.

And, as usual, I went home happy and invigorated. The BCSA "Get to Know You" Socials are simple in idea and execution and yet they always manage to be a lot of fun. I like fun.

9 November 2014

I managed to escape the home office to take a walk across Ham Common

This was a sunny Sunday and I was almost house-bound with a work deliverable due by 9am on the Monday morning (I was not impressed with the client for coming up with that idea!) but the lure of the sunshine and the desire for some fresh air and some limb stretching was just too much temptation for me to resist, so I popped out for an hour or so just before the Sun gave up for the day.

Before it went to bed, the Sun produced bright colours and long shadows to give the familiar place a different look.

The avenue of trees here continues for almost a mile until it meets the back gates of Ham House. Along the way it uses some interesting names, including Melancholy Walk which always seems very inappropriate as it is a lovely place.

8 November 2014

Christmas lights on Oxford Street

I never go out of my way to see Christmas decorations and so it is always a pleasant surprise when I come across some that make an impact. This does not happen that often but I did like the displays in Carnaby Street in 2007 and 2009.

This year it was Oxford Street that impressed.

I was there for musical reasons (Hawklords at the 100 Club) and had to walk along Oxford Street (never a good idea) to get to/from the tube. The battle through the slow pedestrians moving in Brownian Motion was eased by the display above.

I particularly liked the way that the lights were deliberately not arranged in rows and so they looked like a lot of fairly lights falling slowly to ground. Or invading spaceships.

6 November 2014

Made in Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre was good but lacked heart

Made in Dagenham was another of those musicals that I was tempted to go to by the offer of a cheap seat via work. The ticket pricing went something like this; the face value was £60.50 (!), the group discount brought this down to £39.50 and my company's subsidy lowered it further down to £20. At that price I did not have to think about the cost/benefit, at £60 I would not have gone.

Group bookings are never the best seats, though they are usually reasonable, and this time I was in the Stalls a little way back and to one side. My view of the stage was fine.

Unusually I knew something of the plot this time as it was based on a true story though I knew nothing of the details so most of the story was new to me.

Perhaps it was because I saw it earlier in the year but the first thought that came to was The Pyjama Game, another musical set around a workplace dispute over money. It's a comparison that Made in Dagenham never quite lived up to.

A lot about Made in Dagenham was good and it was a very well constructed musical in all departments. The tunes were good and were repeated, the set did interesting things (it reminded me of Matilda in that respect), the cast were lively and well choreographed and there were some good jokes (and some bad ones).

Some of the deviations from the true surprised story surprised and worried me and, for example, I found nothing clever or funny in the pantomime version of Harold Wilson and I thought that having him devalued the core story by making it less real.

While the play was brilliant technically but, like the Tin Man, it lacked heart. While I was very sympathetic to the cause of the women collectively I cared little for the strained marriage of the leading lady and even less about her colleague who died.

I had a minor gripe at the end when they tried to sell the success of the ladies of Ford Dagenham in saying that they helped to end unequal pay for women when it has not ended, it is just disguised better.

Even with these faults, the technical excellent of the production meant that it was thoroughly entertaining and I expect it to run for a long time.

I've fallen in love with Tooth And Claw already

This is another good example when lots of digital things came together to my great benefit.

Digital comics have become important to me, more so than the paper ones now, because of the ease of discovery, purchase and reading. Playing a big role in this are Image Comics and I now read seven of their titles regularly, which is about the same number that I read from Marvel.

One of the many ease of use features of digital comics is that I can browse new titles on my iPad from the comfort of my armchair or bed. All of the big brands (Image, Marvel, Vertigo, etc.) have their own stores that show new issues and then there is ComiXology which shows all those and the smaller brands (e.g. Oni Press, Boom!) too. Finding new comics to read has never been easier.

Of course that does not mean that everything is perfect and it is still quite possible to miss good book, the cover and summary description are not always enough to tell you what you need to know. For example it took me a while to plunge into Sage and I also overlooked Tooth and Claw initially.

The main way that I find new comics to read is via recommendations on Twitter. I follow several people in the comics and most of the main brands who are very good, understandably, at retweeting good reviews that they get. It was a Tweet linking to a review that made me buy Tooth and Claw #1.

I had looked at it briefly when it came out and the author's name, Kurt Busiek, lept out at me as I had loved his run on Marvel's The Avengers at the turn of the century that had ended with the Kang Dynasty saga, but that was not enough at the time ot make me add another title to my reading list. Then the review came and I bought the first issue.

Tooth and Claw is beautiful.

It is a full-blown fantasy story in the swords and sorcery vein (mostly sorcery so far) with animalistic characters.

In the introductory forty four pages we are introduced to a new world facing a major problem and a host of characters. The problem is that magic is fading and ambitions plans are made to bring it back but these go wrong and everything changes.

The story sets off a lot of threads and seems to have ambitions of being as complex and compelling as Game of Thrones, and it has the advantage of being able to invent more fantastical things as it is not constrained by physical places and people.

I was quickly hooked to the story by its freshness and I fell in love with it because of Ben Dewey's art. You can see for yourself just how good it is. I love the detail that he puts in and the way that he constructs his pages. The story flows at the right pace and in the right direction. It's an effortless and pleasant read, as it should be.

The rest of the team play their parts well too. Jordie Bellaire's colours give depth and mood to the art. This one example shows the first, not the later which is achieved by applying different washes to different panels. John Roshell's lettering is clear and unobtrusive, and I like the way that it is in mixed case rather than the uppercase that is the rule in superhero comics.

Everything about this comic is fantastic and I am completely hooked.