Saraswati has been good to us

The goddess of music could not better have bestowed her bounty. In each of her four hands she holds a ticket to this evening’s performance by Laura Marling in the iTunes Live London Sessions at the AIR Studios. Two are for Hg and two are for me.

Attentive readers will remember that Hg and I went to an earlier event of Laura Marling’s which turned out to be one of the best gigs ever. He videoed, I snapped.

8

Laura was joint first in Hg’s review of the music of 2007.

We both entered the draw for tickets to the iTunes recordings as soon as it was announced. You may well guess how chuffed we are to going. I’ll be taking my camera more in hope than anticipation of actually being able to employ it.

Now all I have to do is sort out some rather complicated childcare arrangements.

Orchestra Baobab

So the lighting was shit, the sound was disgracefully ropey for an allegedly “quality” venue – particularly since this was the third of three nights – and the floor was crowded with people of record-breaking height who all felt a desperate need to stand right in front of the stage thus blocking the view of your illicit-photo-taking correspondent. And the boys (most of whom are undoubtedly grandfathers) were taking it easy.

I had the most fantastic time. (Fan-tastic. Fan-tastic.)

cloth cap

It is difficult to overstate how much I love this band. The wonderful, sexy, mellow, sinuous, smouldering, life-affirming sound. Even the song Coumba, the lyrics of which are in French and I can therefore understand and are about the end of a relationship (written, apparently, on the day band member Rudi Gomis went to court to get a divorce from his first wife, Coumba) sounds jaunty.

Here’s my first blog reference to them back in February 2003:

Top of the spike is every track I have by Orchestra Baobab. They provide quite simply music to stay sane to. I don’t know, and don’t care what their tracks are about (my Wolof is limited to “hello how are you” and “yes”). They could be about Armageddon. But they help keep me from meltdown… Stunning. Sexy. Soulful. Syncopated. Smoochy. Sanity.

And here they are again in March 2005 when I saw them play in Dakar:

And my love for Orchestra Baobab knows no bounds. They, on my iPod, brought me through the deepest of darkness and I shall never forget how much I owe their music. I wept while they were on stage. Tears of relief and joy.

lead guitar

I didn’t cry this time, but I closed my eyes and went back to that time, of being unable to get out of bed even to take my pills only a few feet away on the mantelpiece. A time of utter desolation. Curled into a tight foetus, clutching my iPod under the pillow with this music in my ears the only sign I might still be alive.

I could see again my trainers as I walked doggedly, eyes on the ground, through the rain and mud of the winter of 2002/3 to the therapist two, three times a week, iPod clutched in a pocket, with the rhythm propelling me forward one step at a time.

And I felt profoundly grateful and happy to be there, at that moment, in that crowd, with my friends, listening to this same music and to be in such a different place. My life may be somewhat financially diminished but it is so much richer in so many fundamental respects and I feel more authentic (I can’t think of an adequate word so that will have to do) than at any other time.

skullcap sax

I’m such a fan I can actually sing along to many of the tracks even though I speak none of the various languages (apart from a little French) in which they are sung. And I did so without the slightest hint of embarrassment. After all, nobody in the overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, middle class audience was likely to pick me up on my pronunciation. But there were a few numbers I didn’t recognise and that’s because they have a new album out – Made in Dakar.

I reread the extraordinary biography of the band before writing this, and it struck me that it’s possible that one of the reasons it fell from favour was its ethnic diversity and, more particularly, the high proportion of members from Casamance, the would-be breakaway region in the south of Senegal.

bassist

I hope that their new residence in a Dakar club means such divisions are less bitter than formerly.

So the performance. Well, one of my friends thought their approach was somewhat lackadaisical. I prefer the term “laid back”. These guys are not young. They are not hungry. In fact most are rather cherubically rotund and of a placid appearance, particularly bassist Charlie Ndiaye (above) who stayed at the back of the stage with his eyes barely open  throughout, bass resting on the swell of his belly. The notable exception is ectomorphic tenor sax player, Issa Cissoko (pictured above the bassist), who is tall, whippet-skinny, deeply lined and a vigourous seeker of attention. Lead guitarist Barthélemy Attisso (above the sax player) leant over his instrument like a rather dour accountant (he was in fact a lawyer) but he’s still one hell of a player. Perhaps his demeanour is due to the heavy responsibility of the title “chef d’orchestre”.

It seemed to me that there was much good-natured camaraderie and a fair amount of clowning around poking fun at their own age and inability to dance like teenagers. It was fascinating how versatile many of them are, slipping seamlessly between various instruments and vocalist duties. And they are, of course, professional musical performers. It’s what they do, night after night, year after year, mostly in the same place, occasionally on tour. It’s a different life to the recording artists of Europe whose money comes from royalties rather than bums on seats or bellies at the bar. So there’s nothing dangerous or edgy about their performance. But the reverse has its merits – deep familiarity, confidence, relaxation, polish. Little urgency, much joy. All this and some new material too!

The rest of my pictures are here and their record label has a gorgeous gallery including wonderful pictures of them playing in Dakar in very smart suits.

Laura Marling

“I’m sorry you have to listen in the gutter next to two sex shops”.

The most significant thing about Laura Marling is not her age. It is remarkable, astonishing even, but it’s not the most important or even noteworthy thing about her.

5

Hers is an extraordinary talent – voice, lyrics, music, presence. No wannabe celeb, aspirant popstar-babe. Rather a determined woman with an overwhelming desire to communicate through word and music.

6

Last night, though, her age got in the way.

It wasn’t clear why no one was being allowed into the Soho Review Bar even after the support acts were supposed to have been on stage. A long line of people, held behind a roped-off area, snaked along the alley alongside the building and round the corner into the larger road. The gig had sold out in advance and many had queued for returns. Members of her band stood on the cobbles chatting and smoking.

Suddenly a diminutive figure appeared from inside the venue. Bleached blond hair shining under the many-coloured lights of Soho’s sex trade. Wrapped in a black duffle coat, frayed gold canvas pumps on her feet, no makeup.

“They won’t let me play because I’m not over 18” she announced, after asking if anyone had come to see Laura Marling. So she and her three band members lined up against the metal-shuttered window of a shop and played their set, right there in the narrow space between high walls.

2

It was an extraordinary event and performance. The fire and passion of the woman were clear, her determination (and, I thought, bravery) obvious too. “We’ll just keep going til we’re moved on” she said. Fortunately nobody came to interrupt the six songs (Hg counted them). The drummer, presumably usually behind a full kit, knelt on the stones in front of one small drum which he caressed with his brushes. Another band member carried an accordion which he didn’t, in the end, ever play, presumably because its sound in the space would have drowned out all else.

We had, for twenty minutes or so, an utterly unplugged, bare-bones bravura performance. Even the unsteady, heavily tattooed bottle-toting passers-by waited until she was between songs to stagger past, voicing their appreciation as they went. It was a thrilling, unique and highly memorable occasion.

At the end of the last song I found myself standing next to Laura Marling’s mother, who had been pointed out to us (God knows that I love her). “Congratulations” I found myself saying in that utterly absurd fashion that one does on such occasions to complete strangers. Possibly because I’m easily old enough to be Laura Marling’s mother myself. She was, needless to say, proud of her daughter. But couldn’t understand why she’d been prevented from playing. “She’s done gigs all over the country. They know she’s 17. She’s never been stopped from playing before.”

Ultimately, selfishly, I’m glad it happened. Because I was part of something special, something that I’m sure won’t happen again and I was there at the beginning of a career which I believe is going to go a long way and produce some very beautiful music.

(Hg filmed the first song on his mobile, but after that gave up the distraction preferring to give his full attention to the music. His review is here. Thank you so much for suggesting we go! I took pictures, trapped behind a lens too long for the confined space.)

UPDATE: There’s more about Laura Marling here, with her new haircut and there’s a review of her iTunes session here.

Resistance is futile

I am of course only putting this here so I can find it again and show it to the boys, both highly dedicated Dr Who fans. Yes. Really. Nothing to do with the track in question being one of the first singles for which pocket-money coinage left the grasp of my hot hands.And where did I find it? At Mind Hacks where each day Vaughan (just look at that scan) demonstrates more and more clearly his status as what the Inky Circus girls would term a man “whose babies we want to bear” – smarts and laughs, what’s not to love?

I’ve always thought of the above as one of the best blog categories ever. I would adopt it myself if it weren’t through with that sort of thing.

Cool and shiny

So you’re out and about, as you are, and there’s a bangin’ choon winding down the aural canal from some boomin’ sound system. “That’s a bangin’ choon” you think to yourself. But you’re waaaaaay too cool to, like, ask what it is. Or you’re hearing it in a lift and there’s nobody available to question. Whatever. Either way help is at hand:

shazam - cool and shiny

Yes, you really can dial a number on your mobile to access large numbers of autistic obsessive-compulsive music-loving elves a machine to “listen” to the said choon, identify it and text back the relevant details. But at a price, as you can see. However the service is impressive given the non-mainstream nature of the track it was tested on. (The video is extraordinary. Mr Vek is a man unconcerned with image, I would guess.)

So that’s the cool and the shiny. Also not hot, but in a bad way, is the experience of hanging round on dating sites.

Im seeking a lady who is in need of mutual pleasures, Im hoping for regular meetings, friendship is also important to me, Im 56yrs Slim with a well toned body, a nice tight bum, and reasonably well endowed
Im have average looks, Im clean

says one hopeful.

At many cases I am romantic, and like good conversations with anyone normal person, but in bed I like to face big boobs

says another.

It’s been a long time (a very long time) since I was last on the market and “dating” isn’t something I’m familiar with. Looks like that’s not going to change any time soon. I’ll just have to keep ogling trees instead.

slinky-dress twirling tree

Continue reading “Cool and shiny”

Shorts for summer with an extra leg

I’m quite enmeshed in Facebook and flickr and thus feel slightly decentralised. Tripartite? trinitarian? a tripod? highly stable? [stop. now].

Anyway, from Facebook I hereby reproduce a fengtastic response to the previous post:

I’ve been looking at fly fishing flies. The Purple Egg Sucking Leech comes close to lav:

eggsuckingleech

(from the Wooly Buggers)

There’s the Red Flying Ant and the Red Ibis among the Queens, Parmachanee Belle of the Dry Flies; a whole variety of Italian tapestry shades in the Crystal Buggers, just no lav. Outdone by a landslide though by the feather boas of Pink and Purple Rabbit Leeches.

Personally I like playing with my crab but if it’s size you want, conking the bloody fish out is always a last resort if you’re wired up with Bomber Salmons.

Oh here we go, the standard BDSM superhero vinyl costume types we use back home:

assred

I’m not entirely sure whether this means mr feng squeezes into a glow-in-the-dark rubber cephalopod costume for an exciting night out hooking or goes fishing with squid lures. However I find it appropriate that the picture is titled “assred”.

“Lav”, I should probably explain, is short for lavender well-known, of course, for its calming and soothing effect. Spritz! spritz! And here’s one I saw earlier…

lavender

Which of course brings us from Facebook to flickr. The public element of Tate Britain‘s How We Are: Photographing Britain exhibition has been wrapped up… no more entries are being accepted to the How We Are Now flickr pool and ten finalists have been chosen from each of the four categories. None of my submissions, you will be astonished to learn, is among them.

However a very delightful and clearly highly discerning photographer, Stuart Haden, thought that one of them should have been, which makes me extremely happy. And he gives a fundamentally important piece of advice – “Follow your passion, never give up, enjoy what you do.”

I went to see the exhibition but don’t recall writing about it. Did I? I seem to remember having a couple of passing thoughts about it but all that now remains in my small-capacity brain (apart from the OCD vegetable and fruit photographer who later used his glass plates for cold frames) was that the most exciting moment was standing in front of a huge ever-changing display of pictures by a portrait photographer and seeing a friend scroll by.

Elsewhere I’m really enjoying Xtinpore, with whom I share displeasure about 29, and her friend pluvialis. Energetic, superbright, gorgeous, funny, multi-talented/obsessed and fascinating. Damn! And one of them is a real live falconer. Double damn!

Shortly I am off to a gig about which I was alerted by a friend on Facebook. He is a member of the band. As is his sister (she’s the drummer). They’re both my friends on Facebook and they’re both the children of one of my dearest bosom buddies. Much has been written about Facebook but I have yet to see an anguished plea about what to do when one of your mother’s friends befriends you digitally. (Oh the things I could tell her. Not. Well, perhaps. For a small fee. Silence is also available in multiple currencies.)

Have I mentioned Lou Reed's arms?

oh those arms and sinews

Strange, it never occurred to me that anyone else in the audience might be fixated on these two parts of his anatomy but it turns out this predilection is shared by H, whose idea it was to go to see him perform his concept album Berlin in its entirety. And in fact, judging from the larger picture from which the above was cropped, performers as well as audience members shared the interest.

neck

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, possibly the best (although to be honest I go to so few there isn’t much competition, but don’t let that get in the way of how fabulous this was).

Quite apart from the stunning quality of the musicianship it was the physicality of the thing that so enraptured… Lou Reed moving like an ancient and arthritic monkey yet taut as catgut stretched across a violin bridge, face contorted in intense concentration; the swaying of the angelically-gauze-robed New London Children’s Choir; Katie Krykant in her stunning scarlet dress seated quietly while silent then stretched tight, pulling the music out on threads between her hands.

backing singer

The guitarist, Steve Hunter, played on the original album and has been described as “one of the best guitarists on the planet”. I’m not going to argue with that. An extraordinary presence, tall, inexplicably wearing what looked like a black wooly hat, he sometimes bounded around, at others reclined on a stool with one long leg extended out across the stage.

The intensity and rapport between all the musicians on stage (about 30 including the brass and string section from the London Metropolitan Orchestra was incredible. That’s drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith having some kind of out of body epiphany during Satellite of Love (played as one of three encores).

satellite of love

The only cavils I have are minor. The set by Julian Schnabel didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t really very inspiring. And the presence of what appeared to be an old green sofa hanging against the backdrop was annoying. The back-projected film by Schnabel’s daughter Lola Schnabel featuring Emmanuelle Seigner as the album’s central character, Caroline, was a mimsy spun-sugar confection completely emotionally disengaged from the intensity of the music and narrative it was supposed to complement.

And what a narrative. Emotionally and physically abusive relationships, infidelity, jealousy, a mother having her children taken away, suicide by the blade. Quite apart from my own general history in the 36 hours before the concert I learnt of the suicide of a former colleague and discovered a friend had grown up in a series of foster homes after being removed from their mother’s care because of her repeated suicide attempts. Yes, life is indeed a bitch. However at the end of the performance I was left feeling profoundly uplifted. I’m not sure why this should be so, but guess that it’s partly sheer gratitude for what hasn’t happened and partly an ability now to look at pain without the fear that the mere act of looking will allow it to infect, overcome and destroy.

As for the pictures, I am so happy with them! I’ve long admired Caroline‘s spectacular concert photography but grabbed the long lens pretty much as an afterthought just before leaving the house. I think that given how far away from the stage we were it handled the challenge really well. I shoved the ISO up to 800, cleaned up the Olympus trademark noise afterwards; the tiny size and weight of the lens and camera means less shake, and, perhaps the most significant factor, Mr Reed kept quite still most of the time 🙂

I still really really want the new E-510 though. Can you imagine what my tiny light lens could produce on a body with built-in image stabilisation? and with (at last) an effort by Olympus to tackle the appallingly bad noise their cameras usually have at high speeds? It’s only a few millimeters larger and 85g heavier the the E-400… with the weak dollar I could get it for £400 when I go to NY in September… that’s £150 less than over here… nonononononono… no spending money. Tell me to stop. STOP! DON’T DO IT! NOOOOOOOOO!!

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

PS Did you know Lou Reed meditates? He studies with Mingyur Rinpoche who’s a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu lineage. Maybe it’s Rinpoche who’s taught Reed to smile. Yes, there is visual evidence. Lou Reed can smile. Well, after a fashion. Looks like he still needs practice. And he’s released an album, Hudson River Wind Meditations. User reviews are positive. The one music critic I read was, um, savage.

Have I mentioned Lou Reed’s arms?

oh those arms and sinews

Strange, it never occurred to me that anyone else in the audience might be fixated on these two parts of his anatomy but it turns out this predilection is shared by H, whose idea it was to go to see him perform his concept album Berlin in its entirety. And in fact, judging from the larger picture from which the above was cropped, performers as well as audience members shared the interest.

neck

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to, possibly the best (although to be honest I go to so few there isn’t much competition, but don’t let that get in the way of how fabulous this was).

Quite apart from the stunning quality of the musicianship it was the physicality of the thing that so enraptured… Lou Reed moving like an ancient and arthritic monkey yet taut as catgut stretched across a violin bridge, face contorted in intense concentration; the swaying of the angelically-gauze-robed New London Children’s Choir; Katie Krykant in her stunning scarlet dress seated quietly while silent then stretched tight, pulling the music out on threads between her hands.

backing singer

The guitarist, Steve Hunter, played on the original album and has been described as “one of the best guitarists on the planet”. I’m not going to argue with that. An extraordinary presence, tall, inexplicably wearing what looked like a black wooly hat, he sometimes bounded around, at others reclined on a stool with one long leg extended out across the stage.

The intensity and rapport between all the musicians on stage (about 30 including the brass and string section from the London Metropolitan Orchestra was incredible. That’s drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith having some kind of out of body epiphany during Satellite of Love (played as one of three encores).

satellite of love

The only cavils I have are minor. The set by Julian Schnabel didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t really very inspiring. And the presence of what appeared to be an old green sofa hanging against the backdrop was annoying. The back-projected film by Schnabel’s daughter Lola Schnabel featuring Emmanuelle Seigner as the album’s central character, Caroline, was a mimsy spun-sugar confection completely emotionally disengaged from the intensity of the music and narrative it was supposed to complement.

And what a narrative. Emotionally and physically abusive relationships, infidelity, jealousy, a mother having her children taken away, suicide by the blade. Quite apart from my own general history in the 36 hours before the concert I learnt of the suicide of a former colleague and discovered a friend had grown up in a series of foster homes after being removed from their mother’s care because of her repeated suicide attempts. Yes, life is indeed a bitch. However at the end of the performance I was left feeling profoundly uplifted. I’m not sure why this should be so, but guess that it’s partly sheer gratitude for what hasn’t happened and partly an ability now to look at pain without the fear that the mere act of looking will allow it to infect, overcome and destroy.

As for the pictures, I am so happy with them! I’ve long admired Caroline‘s spectacular concert photography but grabbed the long lens pretty much as an afterthought just before leaving the house. I think that given how far away from the stage we were it handled the challenge really well. I shoved the ISO up to 800, cleaned up the Olympus trademark noise afterwards; the tiny size and weight of the lens and camera means less shake, and, perhaps the most significant factor, Mr Reed kept quite still most of the time 🙂

I still really really want the new E-510 though. Can you imagine what my tiny light lens could produce on a body with built-in image stabilisation? and with (at last) an effort by Olympus to tackle the appallingly bad noise their cameras usually have at high speeds? It’s only a few millimeters larger and 85g heavier the the E-400… with the weak dollar I could get it for £400 when I go to NY in September… that’s £150 less than over here… nonononononono… no spending money. Tell me to stop. STOP! DON’T DO IT! NOOOOOOOOO!!

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

PS Did you know Lou Reed meditates? He studies with Mingyur Rinpoche who’s a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu lineage. Maybe it’s Rinpoche who’s taught Reed to smile. Yes, there is visual evidence. Lou Reed can smile. Well, after a fashion. Looks like he still needs practice. And he’s released an album, Hudson River Wind Meditations. User reviews are positive. The one music critic I read was, um, savage.

Earworm

The track Le téléphone sonne by Souzy Kasseya, presumably off the album of the same name, is occupying a large number of my neurones right now. All I can remember, of course, is the chorus

Le téléphone sonne, sonne
Mais qui répond pour moi
Le téléphone sonne, sonne
Moi je suis occupé

It was a huge hit in the mid 1980s and I remember hearing it repeatedly over the (very) loud speaker on the MV Ilala as my friend R and I sat on the economy deck while the shores of Lake Malawi slipped slowly past. Also on constant high frequency rotation was We Are the World which I would pay huge sums of money to ensure I never hear again.

Unfortunately the latter is still widely available but the former not. At least I can’t find it. It’s not on calabash or Sterns so where on earth might I get hold of a copy? I might have to ask Matt if he’s got it.