Just walking up to the Tate Modern, to do a bit of writing, I stopped under the Blackfriars railway bridge and took a few shots. I liked the way the underside of the bridge framed St Paul’s and the City beyond.
Just walking up to the Tate Modern, to do a bit of writing, I stopped under the Blackfriars railway bridge and took a few shots. I liked the way the underside of the bridge framed St Paul’s and the City beyond.
Over the past three years, Kath and I and our friends Jon and Maggie have been walking the length of the Thames. Today, in glorious winter sunshine, we filled a little London gap, which just leaves a stretch in Oxfordshire to complete some time this Spring. As the crow flies Greenwich to London Bridge is 4 miles. Once you take the bends of the Thames into account it is 6-7. Canary Wharf and then Tower Bridge and the City are inevitably the photographic highlights, but from different perspectives than usual. Here are a few shots, starting with a view of the Shard from platform 1 of London Bridge railway station, waiting for the train to Greenwich.
Assuming this church is called St Mary’s as it’s on Saint Marychurch Street, in Rotherhithe.
This statue, in Bermondsey, is of Alfred Salter. He and his wife Ada were pioneering socialists around the turn of of the 19th/20th centuries, politically and in the field of medicine, in south-east London. The cat, above, belonged to them, I think. There is a statue of Ada too, but I took this shot thinking it was David Hockney!
The Shard, imprisoned.
This one taken from London Bridge waiting for a No17 bus, to take us to King’s Cross.
Last week I found myself in North London on three successive nights for my first concerts of 2019. Monday and Wednesday were both at the Lexington in Pentonville aRoad and were part of the Line of Best Fit’s (link) “Five Day Forecast” – a show case for up-and-coming artists. Tuesday was Adrianne Lenker, singer with a Big Thief, at Union Chapel, in Islington.
Five Day Forecast featuring Emily Burns, Lexington, Monday 14 January
I took a bit of a punt on this show, not knowing any of the artists beforehand, save for a quick run through on Spotify on the day. There were four bands, all with women in the lead. First up was Deyyess. She only had one track on Spotify – her recent single “Escher Heart”. That’s a lively piece, with a dance beat and a dramatic melody. That was a feature of most of her songs, though she came on and played with just an electric guitar for the first song, “Detail”. I rather liked that song, though it wasn’t typical. A strong theme in Deyyess’s songs was independence and empowerment, as it was throughout the evening. An interesting detail about Deyyess is that she used to play football for the Arsenal women’s youth team, but decided to concentrate on her music.
Next on was Millie Turner. She’s quite well-established – one of her tunes, “Eyes on You”, has more than 3.8 million streams on Spotify. Her music was pre-programmed on what looked like an old ghetto blaster or radio. She had an engaging style and the songs reminded me a little bit of Lorde. For a couple of the more introspective tunes she brought on a guitarist to play along with her. On the night, I particularly liked “She was a Dancer”. On listening again to her music, there are some good sounds, including “Underwater” as well as the two already mentioned. No album yet, but I could see her being pretty successful.
Call Me Loop followed Millie. They feature singer (and dancer!) Georgia Buchanan. Her songs were the most dance-orientated of the evening, and that comes across even more on her recorded output. I think she will benefit from being on a bigger stage, as she likes to move, and the Lexington is not that big. I particularly liked a song towards the end called “Business”, which is a catchy bit of R&B.
Finally, Emily Burns. She’s a bit more well-established, and by now the place was packed. There were also a lot of young women in the audience, many of whom seemed to know all the words. Earlier the place had been a bit blokey, as you get at most indie events (even if the cast list tonight was pretty pure pop). I’m one of the old geezers so I’m not making any judgements! Emily played acoustic guitar and her songs, accompanied by some bouncy pop keyboards, were catchy and likeable in that modern style. Men didn’t come out too well in the lyrics – even the one who was just too nice! “Friends don’t kiss Friends” was one of the standouts. I liked “Girlfriend at the Time” too. She came back for an encore, which she didn’t seem to be expecting, and played “Cheat” to much acclaim.
So, an enjoyable evening. Not much of it was the sort of music I generally listen to – though Emily Burns and Catherine McGrath aren’t miles apart – but it’s good to try different things. And it was only £9. Great value.
Adrianne Lenker, Union Chapel, Tuesday 15 January
I have End of the Road 2018 to thank for my getting to know the music of Big Thief, a New York indie/Americana band, with alternative twist. I didn’t actually get to see them at EOTR, as they clashed with Fat White Family and the Orielles, but my preparatory listening introduced me to great songs like “Masterpiece”, “Shark Smile”, “Paul” and “Parallels”. Adrienne Lenker sings and plays guitar. She has a beautiful, quite fragile voice, which was perfectly suited to the echoey spaces of Union Chapel. She released a solo album called “abysskiss” in October 2018, and tonight’s show was based on that. She came across as being quite nervous, and tuned (or retuned?) her guitar endlessly between songs. It was worth it though, as she had a lovely, mellifluous finger-picking style, which was a perfect accompaniment to her beautiful, dare I say it, ethereal vocals. I was thinking of Nick Drake and early Bob Dylan at times. She opened up to the audience as time went on, and was clearly in awe of the setting and number of people who had come to see her. An absolute delight.
The support act, Squirrel Flower, was pretty good too. Just one woman and her electric guitar. I saw about half her set. The sound was mellow and atmospheric. No engagement with the audience. After her set she raced down to the Lexington and played in the Five Day Forecast.
Five Day Forecast featuring Faye Webster, Lexington, Wednesday 16 January
I had to go to this one. Any excuse to see Faye Webster perform her beautiful songs. I lurrvve her recent single “Kingston”. It is so sumptuous. There were a couple of other acts first. Ohtis was one man and his acoustic guitar, though he usually has a band. He had a couple of catchy country-ish tunes on Spotify. At the Lexington he played some quirky, rather macabre songs, about things like heroin addiction and psychiatric wards. Mmm, nice.
After Ohtis, it was the turn of Gia Margaret. She has an album out called “There’s Always Glimmer”. I rather like it – it’s a wistful, dreamy collection of songs. Her most streamed song is “Birthday”, which has a lovely, upbeat feel to it. It was mainly her and her electric guitar, with some subtle accompaniment from drums and keyboards. It was the first concert she’d played outside her native US – she is from Chicago. She was very modest about things, but played a lovely set with some fine guitar.
Gia’s unassuming style was replicated by Faye Webster. She sat down too and was more subdued than she has been in the past. She did say she’d felt light-headed, so maybe that was the reason. She played mostly new songs (unless they were from her first album “Run and Tell”) but, surprisingly, not “Kingston”, even though she had her pedal steel man, Kippy, with her to provide those sumptuous swirls and twangs. The new songs were lovely, and instantly likeable. Must be a new album soon, so I’m really looking forward to that. The first song was called “I Should Get Out More”, which is a classic Faye Webster title! There were only two songs from the wonderful “Faye Webster” album: “Alone Again” (hooray!) and the closing song of the set, “Is it too much to ask?” No “She Won’t go Away” or “I Know”, which was disappointing, especially when the set was quite short. Maybe it was because she wasn’t well, or maybe it was just because she does things her own way, and doesn’t like to conform to expectations. Which is fair enough. Like I said earlier, the new songs were great. Just surprising, when you are still making your way, and heading up a prestigious gig in a foreign country, that you don’t play your best hand. Here’s to the next time…
My wife Kath and I spent a few days, up to and including the New Year, with our friends Jon and Maggie in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. It’s not the best known part of England – East Anglia generally has been neglected in many ways – but it is rather beautiful, in its understated way. We went walking on each of the three full days we had there, probably about 8-10 miles each day. Walking off a bit of the Christmas excess hopefully! In my last blog, “The Beauty of Small Things“, I published a few of the close-up photos I took. This time just some wider scenes, but with a homage to a favourite place included. Read on to find out…
We walked from Aldeburgh, through the Black Heath woods and past the Snape Warren, to Snape Maltings, which is famous for its cultural gatherings: music, drama, art. Whether the surname of some of the baddies in “Harry Potter” was inspired by the place I have no idea. I particularly loved the scenes of the mudflats bordering the Alde river estuary, with all the straw-coloured reeds. I have a memory that they are bright green in the summer, from a visit a long time ago. Whatever: there’s a real serenity about the place, as you gaze over the reeds, swaying in the breeze.
We walked back along the same route in reverse, which gives you new perspectives of the same thing. And the sun began to set. The woods blocked the view to the west for much of the time, but I managed a few shots. The first isn’t so much sunset as just an interesting sky. It swirled above us.
Today, a circular walk, in which the Sizewell nuclear power station was never far away. The aliens have landed!
Minsmere nature reserve. Featured on a BBC Springwatch in the past, apparently.
The ruins in this one are the original site of Leiston Abbey.
Not sure how reassuring this public notice is!
Where the warm water from the power station flows into the sea, the fish gather. So, therefore, do the fishermen and the seagulls.
We began with a trip to Henham Park, not far from Southwold. The home of Latitude. Something of a spiritual home for me and Jon. It wasn’t open to the public, but there were no barriers and no-one around, so we ventured in for a bit, and bored our wives with lots of this is where the BBC tent tent is, this is where the new food village is, over there in the Woods is where the Sunrise Arena is, etc, etc. If you wish, compare and contrast with the festival, when there are 30,000 people there. My blog on Latitude 2018 has some scenery shots at the end. It was a dustbowl in July 2018; now it is recovered and green, ready for the next assault!
Southwold is the home of Adams beer and, intermittently, George Orwell. It’s a classic English seaside town too.
This is an old docks area on the estuary of the River Blyth. Black and white suits it, I think.
Back to Latitude. On the bridge, which each year is our re-entry into dreamland for four days.
Back in the early 2000s, when I’d recently become a senior civil servant, I went on a two week leadership course. It was brilliant, and one of the highlights was a day on creativity (yes, in the civil service!) where some of us visited an advertising agency called St Luke’s, just off the Euston Road in London. At one point I asked one of the senior people how he got inspiration for new ideas. He talked about how you can focus on an object and really look at it, think about it, start to relate it to the wider world. And then ideas flow. Now, the cynic may dismiss this as gobbledegook, but I think there is something in it. And certainly, in the world of nature, when you look close up, you see amazing things. In that spirit, when I am out on walks and have my decent camera, which can zoom right in, I like to do just that.
For three days up to New Year’s Eve, I went walking along the Suffolk coast with my wife and some friends. We stayed in Aldeburgh. There was some enchanting scenery on the walks, which I will come back to in another blog; but for now, some of those close ups. With one at the end from a Thames walk in August last year.
The one from the Thames walk, in Oxfordshire. I love this one. A simple thistle revealing its secrets.
2018 – what a year!. Politically it has been turbulent around the world, and in the UK our politicians appear either to have lost their minds or their nerve, as we head towards a break with the European Union which will yield no benefits whatsoever, just deep division and self-inflicted damage to our economy, our society, our nation and our influence in the world. Personally, it’s been a time of change, especially with my decision to retire, which I did in September. And boy, have I enjoyed being freed from the shackles of commuting, dealing with moaning MPs and spending hours in meetings that no-one wanted to be at! More positively, I’ve been doing lots of writing, reading, a bit of painting, plenty of cycling and walking, visiting galleries – and seeing friends. And, of course, enjoying a huge amount of music: on the radio – 6 Music, I salute you! – on Spotify and my iPod, and live. Oh yes, live! I think this is probably my record year for concert-going. In a spot of statto-nerdism, I went through my diary and blogs the other day and counted 44 concerts, plus three festivals: the one-dayer at All Points East in Hackney back in June, and then the two fixed points in the year – Latitude in July and End of the Road in August/September. Those last two events added another 50-plus shows to the list! A lot of music, and a lot of wonderful experiences and precious memories.
It’s been a great year for recorded music, too. I say that every year, but there is so much creativity, so much variety, innovation, excitement. Plenty of tried-and-trusted experiences too – nothing wrong with taking comfort from the familiar, something to rely on, retreat to, in this mad world. I published my Top Ten of 2018 a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned another ten albums and a few tracks, just for good measure; but since then I’ve been listening to a lot of music that I’ve heard in 6 Music round-ups or read about in the best-of lists in the media. It’s mind-boggling! There is so much good stuff out there that I hadn’t heard – or even heard of. That’s despite spending a fair amount of my life listening to and seeking out new music. One of my favourite DJs on 6 Music is Lauren Laverne. She has been on between 10am and 1pm for many years, although she is about to take over the breakfast show. The timeslot has meant that I didn’t get to hear her that often, although you can listen to anything on delay these days, and she also does a very good “Recommends” hour one midnight each week. I’ve been listening a lot more since I retired, and just before Christmas I caught her round-up of her favourite tunes of the year. It was brilliant! A fair few tunes made their way immediately onto my Best of 2018 playlist on Spotify, including “Boys” by Lizzo, “Charcoal Baby” by Blood Orange, “Boyfriend” by Confidence Man and “Girlfriend” by Christine and the Queens. None of these are obscurities, but I was only just hearing them. “Tints” by Anderson.Paak (ft Kendrick Lamar) and “Offence” by Little Simz were already on the list, courtesy of earlier shows. I’m getting my dance music bug back, after the dominance of indie and country in recent years. Back to the 90s!
But let’s not get carried away. Indie and country remained my staples, especially in the live environment, and on my endlessly listened-to playlists which accompanied a lot of my writing and even more of my tube journeys. My top albums were both by country artists – Kacey Musgraves and Catherine McGrath – although both were basically just very good pop albums. With, for me, some very moving and resonant songs. I was really pleased to see the recognition that Kacey has received for “Golden Hour”. And in the way of these things, a media bandwagon develops and suddenly the album is getting in everyone’s Best-of lists. So much so that in the recent BBC poll of 35 music polls, “Golden Hour” came top. Well-deserved; and I hope similar recognition will, in time, come Catherine’s way. Her debut album, “Talk of this Town” didn’t make any Best-ofs I’ve seen (though I’m sure it would have featured in some UK country lists) but she has made a great start to her career and is a joy live. I saw her three times this year, each show a sell-out and each a step up from the previous one. The last was at the Scala, Kings Cross, in September, part of her tour to promote “Talk of this Town”. It was a couple of days after my retirement, so I guess it will stay in my memory for that reason too!
Kacey’s show at Wembley Arena in October was one of the highlights of my musical year. A really wonderful, moving experience. I’d put that show in my top three of the year. It’s hard to pick three from so many; but without taking time to analyse it, or go through the list and start to revise the choice, there were three that jumped out. The other two were Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium, who really was amazing; and, of course Bruce Springsteen’s solo show on Broadway. I had the good fortune, thanks to my friend and colleague at IPSA, Matthew, to get a face value ticket for the show on 30 June. Face value was bloody expensive! But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an extraordinarily powerful mix of the spoken word and Bruce on acoustic guitar and piano. His wife, Patti Scialfa, joined him for two songs, but otherwise it was just Bruce and his story. While I was watching, I’m not sure I took it all in. It was afterwards, walking the streets of New York, that I started to process it, to remember key moments, to reflect on what it meant to me. I’ve written before on how Bruce’s music, from when I first heard “Darkness on the Edge of Town” at the age of 19, became a soundtrack to my life – a bit less so these days, but a lot so in my 20s and 30s especially.
Over the years I’ve invested a lot of time and emotion in the music of Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes it has been music to celebrate to – like when I finally passed my driving test, in 1997, got home and put “Meeting Across the River/Jungleland” on. There was no other choice. Sometimes it has been music to get angry to. Quite recently, in 2015, I got so incensed about something at work that I went for a walk along the river and listened to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way through, metaphorically punching the air, kicking the cat, etc. I felt better by the time I got back. Sometimes it has been music to feel miserable and self-pitying to – see entire late teens and early 20s! Sometimes it has been music to feel love to – like the time in 1996 when my baby son was lying ill on my lap and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, a song about despair, had the opposite effect. I wrote two chapters on Bruce in my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey” if you want more of this!
A recording of “Bruce on Broadway” is now on Netflix. I’ve watched it once; in the New Year a few of my old friends are coming round for a Bruce and beer-fest. Back to 1978 all over again!
In the here and now, Latitude and End of the Road (EOTR) were, once again, highlights of the year. Crucial moments. Moments of liberation, discovery, celebration, community, conversation and Carlsberg! Lots. And this year sun, sun, sun, both festivals. Which at Latitude, means dust, dust, dust! As ever, the music was fantastic and provided a template for music-listening for much of the rest of the year. Highlights for me at Latitude included: Palace Winter, Lower Slaughter (so angry!), Durand Jones and the Indications, Black Midi, Alvvays, Mogwai, Holly Cook, the Orielles, Idles, Wolf Alice and Jon Hopkins. At EOTR my pick were: Tiny Ruins, Amyl and the Sniffers, This is the Kit, Fat White Family, Shame, the Orielles again, Caroline Spence, Soccer Mommy, Vampire Weekend, Japanese Breakfast and Snail Mail.
A word on Idles and Shame. Both have won plaudits this year, both for their raucous live performances and their albums, “Joy as an Act of Resistance” and “Songs of Praise” respectively, which have ranked high in most Best-ofs that take punk/indie music seriously, including 6 Music, NME, Loud and Quiet and Rough Trade. Even the Guardian, which now just follows the mainstream pop/dance choices on the whole, acknowledged them. I’ve enjoyed their live performances, but on record, the odd track at a time is enough for me. I find whole albums, especially Idles, a bit too relentless, and, to be honest, a bit tuneless. The riffs are a bit sludgy too. Best experienced on the stage, I think; and stand back a bit unless you like a lot of laddish moshing.
I thought I’d end with another list. Twenty-one of my favourite live moments of 2018, in no particular order.
So, 2018 was pretty good! 2019 is already shaping up nicely, with a few gigs already booked, including Faye Webster, Adrianne Lenker (singer with Big Thief), Francis Dunnery (not again!), Black Midi (amazing and rather mysterious young noiseniks), Rival Sons (not heard any of their music, but I’m told they rock), Chrvches (hooray!), Sharon van Etten, Ward Thomas, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, Steve Hillage (really!) and Kylie, who is playing Hampton Court Palace in the summer. That should be rather special.
Many more will be added to that list, including, quite soon I hope, the return of Honeyblood, promoting a new album. Can’t wait for that! No 1 album of 2019 slot already booked? We’ll see. Nothing is certain. I mean, we might even end up staying in the EU…
Fingers crossed and have a great 2019.
Last Sunday afternoon I went for a walk along the Thames from Hammersmith to Kew. Another cobweb-clearing exercise after a lively birthday dinner the night before with a few old friends in our favourite Chinese restaurant, Maxim’s, in Ealing.
It was low tide, and for once I strolled out onto the largely dried up riverbed to take a look around. The ebb and flow of the Thames is an amazing thing. Look at the shots below and then think that at high tide all this is covered and the water actually spills onto the street. I did a blog about Chiswick Mall at high tide a while back, if you’d like to contrast the two scenes.
It was a grey day and the dry Thames is pretty grey too. But there is a certain beauty in the bleakness.
There are a couple of photos approaching Kew Bridge from Strand-on-the-Green at the end. It was getting dark at just after 4pm. That time of year.