Last Saturday, I finally got to see my musical hero John Martyn at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm.
In my experience, out of every ten people, about nine have never heard of John Martyn and one thinks he’s just about the best thing ever. I don’t think I’ve never met anyone who knows his music who doesn’t think he’s pretty great. If you haven’t already, please acquaint yourself with his music at the first opportunity. As long as you have working ears and a human soul, you will probably like it.
In fact, never mind that. Listen to him right now, playing on TV in about 1973:
The years haven’t treated him so well — he’s lost a leg, his voice is now probably huskier and certainly more slurred than Tom Waits — but his singing voice is still achingly beautiful, and even despite some rather ill-advised and unfortunate saxophone-playing, the concert was almost unthinkably good.
Although I would have been happy just seeing John Martyn, the support act — John Smith — was a total bonus. I’d actually been quite wanting to see him since I came across his website last year, but was unprepared for the extent of his greatness. He played the whole set unaccompanied — just him and an acoustic guitar on a stage that seemed several sizes too large — but he was great, and his final song, Winter, was just surpassingly brilliant, and essentially unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Today I found a video (below) of him on YouTube, and I watched it over and over until I had to leave the house. I can’t help but feel that he is a potential John Martyn of the future. Anyway, I’m planning to see him play at a smaller venue this coming Sunday, and hopefully get a copy of his CD too, so we shall see…
And a good riddance to 2006 — a year which as far as I’m concerned outstayed its welcome by about three months. I’m quite looking forward to 2007, if only because I just drank a nice cup of good, strong coffee.
My resolutions for this year are to reduce my carbon footprint, be sparing with my use of exclamation marks, and eat more cake.
Well, good luck. I hope you find 2007 acceptable to your taste.
Last week I got the first roll of film from my new/old medium-format camera developed. I quite liked some of the results. Next roll I’m going to be more careful about getting the exposure right…
From top to bottom: (1) Cows drinking from a trough near Ashbourne, Derbyshire (taken at Peter’s stag weekend); (2) A field near Ashbourne, Derbyshire; (3) Eerie clay heads in Derby; (4) The British Library Reading Room, British Museum, London.
Last month I spent a Sunday afternoon wandering through the vast, crumbling interior of Battersea Power Station. Over the 20 years or so since it was shut down, this colossal structure on the bank of the Thames, has slowly sunk into dereliction as one hare-brained multi-million pound redevelopment scheme after another has run out of money and steam.
The building is usually closed to the public, but was opened for a month as the venue for an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art — which was an exciting prospect, because not only was this a very rare opportunity to see this huge, crumbling landmark from the inside, but also because it sounded likely to be the closest approximation of Beijing’s amazing Dashanzi Art District — communist-era East-German-built factories turned art galleries — available outside actual Beijing.
In the event, though, the setting utterly dwarfed the art. As I wandered through, my attention was almost entirely on the power station itself — its epic scale and the extent of its dereliction — and the art seemed bland, small, and for the most part frankly mediocre against its awesome, cathedral-like setting.
I’ve been to quite a run of really good gigs recently — Sparklehorse, Lana, Steve Reich at the Barbican — but Saturday was the best one yet. In fact, I think it might actually be the best gig I’ve ever been to — which is quite something considering I’d never heard anything by The Dresden Dolls before I went.
They’re an American piano & drums duo with a 1920’s German Cabaret aesthetic (they describe their music as Brechtian Punk Cabaret), and they put just about every band I’ve ever seen to shame in terms of putting on a great and entertaining show. The gig — in the Roundhouse in Camden — was more event than rock concert: rather than the conventional support act / pause / support act / pause / main act, there was some sort of performance going on somewhere at all times. A continuously shifting line-up of avant-garde dancers, surreal musical comedy acts, projected animations alternated between the main stage, two mini-stages, and even the middle of the crowd. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be something happening: you’d suddenly catch a glimpse of a ghostly, white-painted man spotlit stock-still on a balcony, or a girl in a tutu would rotate slowly past like something that had drifted out from the pages of Alice in Wonderland.
The Dresden Dolls’ own set was announced by a proper old-school fan dance — nipple tassels and all — and even once they’d started their set they were far more fun to watch than any other band I can think of: the drummer looked and moved like a deranged mime artist (he really had a bit of a Japanese taiko thing going on too: I’ve never seen another non-taiko drummer whose style of movement was such an integral part of his playing), and the pianist would hit a chord, then just have time for a copious swig from a bottle before it was time to hit the next one. While they played, the various dancers and other performers took turns to perform alternately strange and acrobatic routines on the stage.
Go and see them, I reckon. I can hardly begin to describe how good they were.
Look at this: not only has Tom Waits gone political, but he’s written a truly great protest song that you can download for free from his record label’s website at anti.com:
“Once Kissinger said ‘We have no friends,
America only has interests’.
Now our president wants to be seen as a hero
and he’s hungry for re-election,
But Bush is reluctant to risk his future
and the fear of his political failure,
So he plays chess at his desk
and poses for the press,
Ten thousand miles from the road to peace.”
I don’t think Tom Waits has ever written a lyric that didn’t carry at least a whiff of genius. There are six other tracks for download there, too. Bargain!
I’ve been going to see a lot of bands lately — I’m excited about live music to an extent that I probably haven’t been since I was about nineteen. Two days ago I saw (occasional Tom Waits collaborators) Sparklehorse at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. They played a great selection from their four albums, including their first album, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot — one of my favourite records of all time. But hearing their other stuff played alongside it reminded me how much good stuff there is on their other records too, which has prompted a bit of a Sparklehorse revival for me the last few days.
Another reason to be cheerful: my old friend Rich’s truly excellent band Lana. They’re one of the best live bands I’ve seen in ages, and the fact that I’m linking to their myspace page despite my profound, visceral loathing of myspace should be taken as an indicator of just how much I think you should listen to them.
Hello. This website is not dead — it’s only sleeping. As a travel journal and account of life on a tiny Okinawan island it’s really served its original function, and since I’m now back in the UK and don’t really want to be writing one of these ‘what-I-had-for-breakfast-today’ web logs I did consider putting a last full stop to it all, but actually it’s quite nice to have a little place on the web so that increasingly widely-scattered friends and acquaintances around the world can, if they want to, periodically get at least an approximate idea of where I am now and what I’m doing.
And besides, occasionally I do go somewhere and do something other than have breakfast. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I went to Paris: a city that is notable for many things, including — perhaps most famously — being the capital of France.
Getting off the bus (the bus from London is extremely reasonable (£35 return) and takes a mere eight hours or so including the ninety minute ferry journey, during which you can get off the bus and walk around, have a coffee and a sandwich and a look at the sea), getting off the bus I realised that it has probably been about 15 years since I was last in Paris, despite the fact that Paris is brilliant and getting there and back from London costs less than it used to cost to get from my little island to Naha on mainland Okinawa.
I went to visit Alex, who was briefly back from Hokkaido. While there we finally got to go to Dans Le Noir — a restaurant where you eat in total darkness, and where all the waiters and waitresses are blind. It was a very interesting experience — for me the complete darkness oscillated unpredictably between relaxing and oppressive, so it’s very hard to say overall how much I liked it, but the food was excellent and it was certainly an exercise in empathy as well: I’d never considered the practical difficulties of eating things you can’t see. How do you make sure a forkful of salad goes into your mouth neatly? How do you pour yourself a glass of wine? And how do you know when you’ve finished? I’m sure in all cases there are more elegant solutions than the ones I found (I was careful to wipe all traces of sauce off my face before returning to the light).
We also watched an almost entirely deranged 1970s Japanese B-movie with the superb title of Terrifying Girls High School: Lynch Law Classroom. The title pretty much sums it up: a sort-of Japanese Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (surely the greatest film title of all time…?)
On Friday I went up to Derbyshire for a couple of days for Peter’s stag party. It was a nice celebration, quite mellow by stag party standards. We went for a walk in the hills round Ashbourne (a Fairtrade Town, apparently), to a pub for supper, and then to the house of one of Peter’s friends in Derby for a party. It was the first time I’ve spent a night away from London since I got back (still haven’t made it up to Edinburgh yet…), and also gave me a chance to play with my new toy: a medium-format Russian Lubitel camera that I got from a secondhand shop a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t taken a whole film yet (you only get 12 shots per film, and developing costs are high, so got to be a bit careful what you shoot), but hopefully will have something to put here when I do…
The eerie clay heads (below) were sprouting up from the ground around the base of a tree. Apparently they commemorate a group of prisoners of Derby gaol who were shot in the streets after escaping.
Coming back from a street party in Gospel Oak, we were waiting on the platform at Kentish Town station when this bloke turned up with a battered Fender Stratocaster and a tiny battery-powered amp, and provided some tube-tunnel echoey, gritty old-fashioned rock and roll. It was great.
One of the biggest changes in London in the three years I’ve been away: the posters that used to say ‘Busking on the Underground is illegal’ now say something along the lines of ‘The buskers at this station are licensed — please show them your support’ — an improvement so straightforward and catch-free that it’s almost unnerving.