28 April 2013

Spring colour in Kew Gardens (April 2013)

My main reason for going to Kew Gardens was to visit the Herbarium, which was special, and then I made the afternoon even better by going in to the gardens themselves.

The always-helpful Kew Gardens iPhone App reminded me that the Magnolias were in bloom so I planned a short jaunt through the gardens that took me in through Elizabeth Gate and out at Brentford Gate.

The first loud announcement of Spring's arrival was the display of colour in the flower beds around the Orangery, where I prepared for my long walk with coffee and cake. These beds were planted fairly formally and had a mix of colours on display.  It was a most heartening start to the walk.

From the Orangery it was a short walk west to the patch where most of the Magnolias live. Some could not bother to wait for me and were well past their best in the last week of April but there were still plenty in healthy bloom.

That part of the gardens is mostly woodland with a mix of grasses and flowers between the trees. Most areas have simple lawn-style grass and these are supplemented by patches of longer grass and wild flowers. The Bluebells were just starting to show but were not yet in the large numbers that can make their displays so impressive. So, instead, I have chosen this picture of less intimidating purple and white flowers.

There were, of course, still plenty of Daffodils. Some could be found in the formal beds, like in the top picture, but I prefer them when they are out in the wild among the trees.

Getting behind the scenes at Kew Herbarium

Kew Herbarium is one of those bits of Kew Gardens where real work gets done and the general public are not normally allowed to see.

It sits just outside of the main gates on Kew Green in Hunter House, which was used as a residence by the Duke of Cumberland until he became King of Hanover in 1837.

The building has grown since then and now holds approaching 2 million samples of plants and fungi.

It was opened for a day to Members of Kew Gardens and i duly booked my slot, not so much to see the collection as to see the house.

There is a lot of work involved in collecting, recording, classifying and storing all the specimens and that is what we were shown over the course of an hour and a half. Kew Gardens thought that the tours would take forty minutes but they made insufficient allowance for our curiosity.

The origins of the collection include contributes from several amateur collectors in the late 1800s but now collecting is more systematic and Kew Gardens seeks samples from specific regions, such as those seen to be under threat from climate change.

The methods are still fairly Victorian though and include dried pressed samples and notebooks that describe the situation in which the samples were found.

They are then flat-packed in standard size packs, used well before containerisation was invented. Larger specimens are carefully folded to fit. On arrival at Kew they are frozen to reduce the risk of any infection being brought in. Then they are brought to the Herbarium to be worked on.

The centrepiece of the building is this magnificent hall packed on all three levels with cupboards of samples all carefully described, catalogued and indexed.

The processing is all very manual. Bar codes are used but digital photography is not as the too-clever software in the cameras changes the colours.

Kew prefers to employ artists to hand-draw samples when they are wanted for publication.

We met one of these artists and she explained some of what she had to do to produce accurate scale drawings of plants so big they have been folded several items or so small that a microscope is needed to see them properly.

Further down the production line we met two ladies who did the last stage of preparing the finished sample. This meant taking the sample and formal description and gluing these on to a sheet of acid free rice paper. The glue was special too and the main skill was in ensuring that all parts of the sample were firmly glued to the sheet and that none of the dried glue could be seen. Not easy.

We met other people involved in the process in a series of enthralling conversations.

Yet, enthralling though the conversations undoubtedly were, my attention was repeatedly drawn to the room around me with its well organised clutter and prison-like structure. We even got a go on one of the spiral staircases.

The people working in the Herbarium clearly loved their work and this came though in what they said, the enthusiasm with which they said it and their willingness to say it to strangers on a Sunday afternoon.

And that leads me to my main conclusion from the afternoon, only the Public Sector can deliver something as wonderful and necessary as the collection at Kew Herbarium. We must cherish and respect places like this, and Kew Gardens itself, to prevent them falling in to the hands of the zealous privateers in the government.

27 April 2013

The Thin White Duke get Petersham singing (April 2013)

Things like babies (theirs, not mine) have kept me and The Thin White Duke apart for just over a year so when they came back to the Fox and Duck I was there to see them.

Admittedly I was a little late, having been to the theatre and an exhibition earlier in the day, but I got there after just a couple of numbers.

It was something of a fight to get in to the pub as the place was packed, especially the main standing area just inside the main door. A managed to win the fight to the bar for a pint of Young's Ordinary and then the second fight through the crowd to the seat with the clearest view.

The font man, Dave, was far out in front, escaping from the narrow confines of the makeshift stage area. Behind him on guitar and bass were Ben and George as usual. The surprise came from the new faces on keyboards and drums, Norbert and Ashley.

Speaking to George during the break he said that he preferred the sound of the new lineup. I had not noticed much change at that point so I paid more attention in the second half and it was the rendition of Cracked Actor that convinced me that he was right. Their sound was richer and funkier.

The band may be 40% new but the set is very much the same and we were treated to a couple of hours of Bowie's greatest hits, and a few oddities, from Queen Bitch to China Girl.

Ziggy Stardust featured heavily, as expected, and as it should. It is still a brilliant album and time has done nothing to diminish it.

The one surprise was the inclusion of Reality, the title track from the 2003 album.

The Thin White Duke know what they are doing and they ended the set with Heroes which was quickly followed, due to time pressure, by an encore of other sing-a-long songs, ending with Starman. Most of us had been singing for most of the evening and by the end we were all joining in. There was dancing too but I know my limits.

The best news is that The Thin White Duke will be back before too long, August I believe, and I expect to be there. I'll try to be on time.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery is another event that I got in to via personal recommendations, got in to late and only got to see because it was extended. It was also another show that exceeded expectations.

The extended run was still sold out so the best I could do was a timed ticket at 6pm on a Saturday, which actually worked well for me as I was able to see People at the NT next door in the afternoon.

Light show is a mix of pure art, if there is such a thing, and things designed to fool the eye.

There are several large installations spread across the oddly designed interior space of the gallery. The twinkling candelabra of programmed lights sits just inside the entrance. It sets the scene for what follows though it is quickly eclipsed by more interesting displays.

The first magic comes with a "solid light" installation by Anthony McCall. Thin beams of light cut solid shapes through the darkness like translucent sheets of paper. Moving through them is eerie as they look as though they should be solid. The effect improves as other people move through the light cutting black lines in to it. The final confusion comes as the white lines rotate slowly.

This is the display where the strict, and often repeated, no photography rule is broken the most.

This seven-sided star is a simpler effect but not as simple as it first looks. Looking at it straight on and it is just a star but moving to a side the shape soon disappears as the beams are not focused on the same point, they meet at different distances from the far wall.

Colour features in another of my highlights.

Three connected rooms are bather in blue, red and green light. This is too much for the brain to handle.

Entering the blue room first the brain quickly decides that the blue light is not real and adjusts accordingly. The blue room becomes white.

Moving to the vivid red room and the trick repeats and the red fades to little more than an off-white pink. Looking back at the blue room and it looks blue again. The green room completes the triad of tricks. Moving back and forth between the rooms is confusing but in a curious and safe way.

My favourite effect also confuses but this time it is a little scary too.

The idea is fairly simple. A white room, with a wire mesh box in the middle and within that a strong point of light that moves smoothly between two opposite corners. The effect is startling. As the light moves closer to and further away from each face of the cube the shadows on the wall move in and out alarmingly. It is impossible to believe that only the light is moving when it looks for all the world as if it is the walls and cube that are moving.

These are just a few of my personal highlights, and there were others. The overall impact is impressive and almost overpowering in its cunning and beauty.

People at the National Theatre (charming)

People has been recalled to the National Theatre after the initial run sold out. I was late to the game initially and missed the first run but I realised my mistake in time to get a ticket as soon as the second run went on sale.

Hence I managed to get a dead-centre seat in the Circle at a price about twice that I am used to paying for theatre tickets.

People has Englishness draped over it like a flag of St George during a football tournament. It is written by Alan Bennett, two of its main themes are the National Trust and the Church of England, and it stars National Treasure Frances de la Tour.

The theme is Chekovian. Lady Stacpoole's family have lived in the house since 1456 but now she lives in squalor and is trying to arrange a sale of heirlooms to raise some money. Her younger sister, a Deacon, has a different plan and that is to gift the house to the National Trust so that they can restore it while allowing the owners to carry on living there. Lady Stacpoole, who is close to being a recluse, objects to the NT plan because it would bring People in to the house.

Those People may be where the play gets its title but its energy and purpose comes from the People in the story. And there are a lot of them. Lady Stacpoole has a companion and an old flame who makes porno films. We also meet the cast and crew of one of these films, also a Bishop, an auctioneer and a terribly enthusiastic assessor from the National Trust.

Some of these people have dubious morals but they are all essentially nice.

The play is incredibly rich with so much going on, though all the action takes place in one room.

It would spoil the surprise to say much about what all the People talk about or do but I can say that the story is full of surprises and that none of these are unnaturally forced in to the situation just for effect.

This is the story of Lady Stacpoole and Frances de la Tour carries that burden with casual ease. She is stubborn, a little eccentric, and has retained her lover for life as characterised in the little dance shown in the official poster. There are a few leg waving dances to pop songs and each one brings smiles to the faces of the audience.

That audience knows that the play is targeted at them and they conform to their expected role laughing self-deprecatingly at all the witty comments about the National Trust to which they all belong.

People is maddeningly entertaining. We are skilfully manipulated to fall in love with the characters and despite knowing that we are being manipulated we willingly do so. The charm is effusive.

25 April 2013

LIKE 45: Strictly Open

LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) always has interesting talks so my simple rule of thumb is to go to all that I can get to and not to worry too much what the actual subject.

And that's how I found myself at a talk on open data in academic research, which I found interesting.

We had three guides to take us through the topic, Ross Mounce of the Open Knowledge Foundation, Velichka Dimitrova, OpenEconomics coordinator, and John Murtagh a Project Officer whoo is Training in Data Management at the University of East London. Together they gave us a broad and consistent view of the subject.

As always I struggled to mix paying attention with taking notes and tweeting, so what follows is somewhat chaotic and I've applied some post-event clean-ups and analysis to try and make sense of it all. The mistakes are mine, not the speakers'.

Publishers have a monopoly on the academic papers they publish, irrespective of academics' wishes.

Academic material is non substitutable, there is only one source.

Research literature has a wider use beyond academia but they have no access to it. This is a block on further research and, hence, progress.

A lot of research is publicly funded but then hidden behind pay walls. Downloaded PDFs are not allowed to be mined electronically.

There is a basic conflict of interest at the heart of this debate; profit (for publishers etc.) v shared knowledge leading to new discoveries. Open Data helps us to stand on the shoulder of giants.

Need to share research data to understand/challenge the research, hence the new topic of Research Data Management.

Access to the data is required but it must also be controlled, i.e. used properly.

Need access to the publish data alongside the article that comes to conclusions from it. The data and data collection are separately citable. The data may even be more valuable than the report summarising it and the collection of data is a skill in its own right.

Data are information, and librarians know how to manage information.

My summary of the summary is that we have been used to KM being at the top of a Data > Information > Knowledge pyramid and that means that the importance of Data has sometimes been overlooked.

After the talks LIKE does what it always does and the conversations continued over food and drinks as the social element of the evening came to the fore.

24 April 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 24 April 2013

I have been reading DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks since getting my iPad about a year ago. It is a simple and very effective idea; it samples a few pages from each comic published that week to give potential readers a much better idea of what the comic is like than any synopsis could. It also saves the hassle of going to a comic shop and the embarrassment of flicking though every new comic without actually buying one.

I like the snippets of story but the main buzz comes from the artwork. Here are three pages that caught my eye this week.

The action in this cover speaks for itself. It's a fairly common construction, here running from gunfire, and is executed nicely so that you can feel the movement and the determination.

The cropped last panel with the unexpected punchline is the clincher here and I love what leads up to it too. It's the cleanness of the drawing, the use of few colours and the darkness.

This is simply sensational. A darkly Gothic horror image that compels you to read the comic. The story the follows does not quite live up to the cover, but then, how could it?

21 April 2013

Nineveh at Riverside Studios (intense)

Firstly some thanks to the Riverside Studios for holding Sunday matinee performances. Working away for a lot of the time means that I usually go to the theatre just at the weekend and it frustrates me that there is so little on offer on Sundays.

Looking to fill a Sunday afternoon I checked the Riverside website first, the weather was not good enough to go to Kew Gardens, and Nineveh looked interesting, so I went.

The interest came from the subject matter, it was based on stories of child soldiers dragged in to brutal conflicts around the world.

The Riverside is a welcoming place, even on a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon, and I was able to recover from the ordeals of the bus journey with a nice coffee and some cake.

The Riverside also does a good job of promoting its shows and there was a display about Nineveh in the reception area.

The set for Nineveh was dark and bare; too dark for any of my pre-performance photos to show anything. There were a few piece of wood shaped a little like a boat with some vertical spars that suggested that we were below decks.

In this dark space were three ex-militia from different regions, somehow brought together.

Exactly where they were was one of the themes of the play and was never fully resolved. For most of the show they believed that they were trapped inside a whale though the ending suggested that it might have been limbo.

The relationships between the men were unfriendly though accepting that they had a shared problem. This was not unlike how prison relationships are usually portrayed, i.e. limited trust and changing allegiances.

They talk about their situation and their pasts, neither of which were pleasant or had much hope. It was grim but there was some warmth in their banter too even though it was often spiked with insults. The uncertain relationships between the three men was another of the play's themes and it was the background against which the stories were told.

At one point the three men discover a boy and his story and perspectives started to change the drama's direction. Previously the men had no direction, or any idea where they were, and the boy's ideas gave them something to hang on to and he led them to the story's end.

His tale was also the most harrowing. He had been captured by an African warlord and had been ordered to kill his own parents. His mother pleaded with him to do as he was ordered in order to protect his life at the expense of hers. The stories in Nineveh were based on true stories and this made it even harder to listen to.

Even with the benefit of a week to let the experience of Nineveh sink in I am finding it hard to understand exactly what it was. There were strong elements of religion, comradeship, literacy and violence, all mixed and none dominant. I would not claim that it was as good as Waiting for Godot but it shared the description of nothing happens in an absorbing way.

Whatever it was, or was meant to be, I thoroughly enjoyed it, though "enjoyed" always seems the wrong word for a play about such a bleak subject. It was an intense drama well acted and simply presented. I would see it again and I would recommend others to see it too.

19 April 2013

Brian Bolland speaks at Comica

Brian Bolland is one of the grandees of British comic book art and so I leaped at the chance to hear him speak at a Comica event.

The venue for this was the new home of Central Saint Martins which has grown out of disused industrial buildings just north of Kings Cross Station. This is already an impressive site and building with a large courtyard of fountains outside and large open spaces inside. Comica has held in the Platform Theatre. That is at the back of the site where the next stages of the sites redevelopment are in full swing.

The Platform Theatre has a comfortable bar so arriving a little early was not a problem, I always like to allow some time in case of tube hold-ups.

Brian came prepared with a presentation with dozens of examples of his work from throughout his career. He went through these are some pace pausing momentarily to tell us about some of the more important milestones, such as Killing Joke which launched him as a major force in the USA too.

Another milestone, and a much less obvious one, was Brian's move to digital working and his views on this were interesting.

Brian saw the original pen and ink work as the definitive look and feel and with digital he is trying to replicate that, not to do something new, though he has done some playing with the capabilities of Photoshop such as incorporating photographs.

His reason for using digital is for the improvements it gives in the mechanics of drawing. An obvious benefit is the ability to change or delete things easily. A less obvious benefit is that drawing on a slate with the picture appearing on a separate screen means that the drawing hand does not get in the way of the eye and the drawing.

The other insight that I found interesting was that Brian prefers the traditional 9-panel structure of a page believing that the panel should be a window on to the art rather than part of it. He found complex page structures distracting.

This was a whirlwind presentation that could only scratch the surface of his long and wide career. Unfortunately the timetable for the evening meant that the journey was shorter than I would have liked and the host thought that questions from the audience were more important than just letting Brian tell his story.

This was a Chinese meal of a talk that left me satisfied but wishing for more. Hopefully Comica will deliver that something more one day.

18 April 2013

Dressing up

I'll say something about the opera that spawned this later but, in the meantime, here's an example of what you can do with some props and a photo booth.

Sunken Garden by ENO at The Barbican (spectacular)

This was a complex and confusing evening in many respects.

Firstly, I was there almost under pretext. The ENO Undressed scheme is meant to encourage new people to the opera but it is such a good deal that I applied for tickets and was very pleased to get two of the two hundred on offer for this opera.

The appeal was not so much the best seats for only £25, appealing though that was, but rather it was the extras that were thrown in like the pre-performance talk and the after party with members of the cast. These are things that I would pay extra for so getting them and a cheaper ticket was a bizarre bonus.

This was an ENO opera but staged at the Barbican, and not the Coliseum, as part of their out reach programme where they take the ENO brand to different locations to encourage people to follow them back to their home. 

The publicity for the opera focused very much on the mixed media used, including 2D and 3D film, recorded singing and electronic instruments alongside a normal orchestra.

The (short) pre-performance talk, by the composer Michel van der Aa, concentrated on the libretto novelist David Mitchell. This told us that the story starts in the real world and then moves in to a fantastic realm, the Sunken Garden.

Sunken Garden is the story of a struggling artist who is trying to make a film about somebody who disappeared. A rich benefactor pays him to continue his work and we see it grow.

Part of the performance is talking heads film clips; no music, just words. At times it is hard to think of this as an opera.

A big step is made when a second disappearance is uncovered, and that eventually lead him to the Sunken Garden.

And that is when we had to put our 3D glasses on. The effect was mind-blowing, even though I knew that it was coming. There was an audible gasp of surprise and delight from the audience.

The 3D film was shot in the Eden Centre and just moving around the plants in 3D was spectacularly effective. This had more of an impact on me than Avatar did.

We find the missing people in the Sunken Garden, but only on film.

There are some special effects to add to the already impressive mix, such as when water from the pond in the garden is splashed across the stage (apparently).

Amidst all this weirdness I found the music surprisingly normal. The main themes were familiar orchestral sounds, they brought Leonard Bernstein to mind, and these were enriched with fanciful noises and effects, not quite Hawkwind but you get the idea.

The Sunken Garden assaults the senses for 100 minutes (with no interval) giving so much to watch, listen to and to try and understand. It's hard work and all the more rewarding for being so. The understanding was the hardest part and even having read the synopsis afterwards I am still not sure about everything that happened, but that only makes me more interested in seeing is again.

17 April 2013

Walking through fields

My current posting to power stations in the Retford area has deprived me of the morning walks that I get when working in Victoria so I have been trying to compensate by going for walks in the evening.

This is not that simple to do as the hotel I am staying in is in Barnby Moor which is surrounded by fields and the main roads have no pavements.

Still, I am an adventurous sort when it comes to exploring on foot and I gave the local footpaths a try,

The first problem was finding a footpath. My map suggested that there were a few but I had to walk a couple of kilometres along a road before I found one that I could use. There was a stile and a sign heading in something like the direction that I wanted to go so off I went.

The second problem came when I got to the edge of the field and there was no sign of where the path went from there. Two of the possible routes were barred by gates that clearly did not open and could not be climbed over. It might have helped if I was not in my suit.

The third problem was that Darkest Nottinghamshire does not have 3G so my iPhone was not much use as a map and I was walking blind.

I decided to walk along the edge of the field, rather than give up and go back the way I came. Three fields later I found myself back on a road, close to my hotel and without any shotgun pellets in me.

The next time I lowered my ambitions a little and instead of looking for footpaths I headed down the track that my field wandering had led me too.

This is only a hundred meters or so from the hotel yet it looks like the middle of barren countryside, which it is.

It was also very quiet. In the hour I walked the only people I saw were a woman driving a car up to a farmhouse and a man driving a large tractor with rear caterpillar tracks. Both of them smiled and waved at me, but then you have to get used to that up here. This is not London.

It was late in the day and not long in to Spring so the sun started settling down for the night not long after I set out making a bold effort to shine though the clouds as it did so. In its better moments it shone its weak light though bare trees.

With (at least) four power stations on the area, there are separate coal and gas fired stations at both West Burton and Cottam, it was no surprise to see pylons everywhere.

Often these strode across the low flat horizon and at other times they crossed my path and I was able to get a good close look at them.

There is something wonderful about pylons in the way that they manage to be both simple and complicated at the same time. Somebody went to a lot of care to design the structure and there is nothing extraneous about it, all the supporting struts that I find so decorative were put there for a practical purpose.

There was more evidence of technology on the ground too. Fields were recently ploughed ready for the approaching Spring.

Some of the fields were severely ploughed, presumably for some exceptionally shy root vegetables, and that produced some striking geometric shapes.

The exploration finished in Billy Button Lane which did what I hoped it would do and took me back to one of the two main roads that lead in to Barnby Moor' one is London Road and the other is the Great North Road; the A1 is a short stroll away as is the main train line to Scotland.

Billy Button Lane is where I met the tractor, and that is all I met. The place is so quiet and so uninhabited it is a wonder that the road ever got tarmacked.

Still, on balance, I prefer the certainty of a road to the wandering around fields in the desperate hope that there is a way out in the far corner and that I do not get shot in the meantime - I know what farmers are like because I listen to the Archers and used to watch Emmerdale Farm.

I think that I have given fields a fair chance to impress me and they have not. I prefer the grubby industrial sprawl of the power stations that I work in.

15 April 2013

The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre was unexpectedly good

The obvious reason for seeing The Book of Mormon is that is comes from the creative team that brought us the deeply irreverent and funny South Park. The second reason was an offer through work.

I booked the tickets some time ago before the show opened and since then it has become a large hit, which I had not expected as South Park's appeal is definitely fringe rather than mainstream.

I took my seat in the third row of the stalls with some excitement and anticipation.

The show starts much as you would expect by poking fun at the large dollops of faith required to believe the origins of Mormonism. Fun is also poked at the Elders who are trained to go out and spread the word.

We follow two of these who are sent to Uganda. One is the star of the training group, a typical all-American kid, and the other is a dumpy friendless geek. Their mission gets off to a bad start when they learn that the locals chant the equivalent of "Fuck You God" when they are upset. Things then get worse when they meet their colleagues who have all sorts of personal issues, as this overtly gay dance suggests.

The Mormons had failed to convert anybody until the geeky Elder Cunningham mixes The Book of Mormon with some themes from his favourite sci-fi films and shows. These new stories, even weirder than the originals, capture the natives' imagination.

There are complications, of course, such as the local war lord and the regional Mormon management, and a whole heap of minor things like the doctor who keeps reminding us that he has maggots in his scrotum.

What surprised me, looking beyond the earthy humour, was how good a musical it was.

The songs were clever and full of unpredictable lyrics; so unlike Les Miserables. The songs had good tunes too and were not just simple vessels to carry the words. The story was engaging and had a lot of warmth in it when it could have just been cynical. Less unexpected, because South Park does it too, was the successful use of a wide range of characters.

The Book of Mormon really is a good show and it is easy to see why it is sold out for months to come.

14 April 2013

Back to The Old Vicarage in Petersham

My first Open Garden in 2013 was back to The Old Vicarage just up the road in Petersham, and what a difference a year makes.

Last year the garden was open a week or so later and this week Spring has been slow in coming. This unkind combination meant that the tulips that surrounded the house last year were nowhere to be seen this.

The garden was still certainly worth seeing, it was just that my attention was more on the physical aspects of the garden, especially the pots, rather than the soft ones.

There were two clusters of large pots next to the house and both were worth of several photographs. I did, of course take several at interesting jaunty angles and I was somewhat surprised and disappointed that the horizontal ones looked the best.

Another feature of the garden is the wild hill in one corner.

Cultured grass and bulbs lead the way there before giving in to what looked like random weeds, though I suspect that some planning was involved.

This area is also where the children's play house and other apparatus is kept. This, and the tennis court below, show that this is a garden for action as well as peaceful contemplation.

The hill is also where the garden's most distinctive feature can be found - the three green deer. And, finally, a chance for an angled shot.

They are so clearly fake on two counts, they are not real deer and they are not trimmed hedges either,  yet their charm is undeniable.

Venturing to the furthest corner of the wild hill to look back towards the house shows just how wild the wild hill is and also how large the garden is.

Despite its natural beauty the wild hill does look like a work in progress or even just laziness, and it lacks something like a bench or a pond to give it focus.

That said, the path around the wild hill is a break from the intense formality of the borders around the house which could be considered to be over manicured in the same way that the wild hill is under cultivated.

Of course all this is my view of the garden but I am not the person who lives there. I was just a visitor and I enjoyed my second visit enough to contemplate a third later in the year when the flowers should be out.

13 April 2013

Echoes, without Echoes, at The Berry

Sad events kept me away from Echoes for a while. They lost their guitarist, Lee, in a car accident last year and then when they got back on the road and played at a local pub, the Fox and Duck in Petersham, I was at a memorial for a friend of mine who died recently.

The ill winds finally dissipated on Saturday 13 April when I was able to catch Echoes at The Berry in Surbiton. I last saw them play there two years ago.

Obviously new guitarist, Doug Lean (far left),has had an impact on the band. His style is a little more forceful and aggressive than Lee's and he does not use a slide guitar (yet). Doug has not yet learnt the full set so this was the band Echoes without the track Echoes. Of course Echoes was missed but the Pink Floyd catalogue is not exactly small and the set survived without it.

There is still a heavy reliance on The Wall, and there is nothing wrong with that. This is obvious from the very beginning and the shows opens with the traditional song In the Flesh?,the words, "So ya, Thought ya, Might like to go to the show" and a solid blast of sound that announces to the pub that the band are on and they mean business.

The set continues with more from The Wall and a smattering of songs from the likes of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, e.g. Sorrow and The Dogs of War) and there was Arnold Layne too.

There was nothing from The Dark Side in the first half as they saved that up for the second. This is the album's fortieth birthday and to celebrate Echoes are playing it in its entirety.

To be honest they used to play all of it before but not in the right order and with other songs interleaved,

Dark Side is still a brilliant album (I bought it in '73 and several times since then) and was warmly received by the enthusiastic audience.

Money was an obvious highlight because it is such a great song and another was Great Gig in The Sky because the saxophone did the part of the screaming vocals so well. Despite that, Us and Them was my favourite song on the night as Echoes skilfully pulled all of the meaning out of the song. It was impossible not to sing along.

Now that Echoes are back on the road I expect to be singing along to them again once or twice again this year. And yet again after that.