Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Some Van Halen Bluegrass Joy...

A brilliant Bluegrass version of Van Halen's epic song 'Jump' sung by front man David Lee Roth accompanied by The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band on an album I've only just discovered entitled: Strummin' With the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen . Although the re-unions with former Van Halen bandmates still happened what is abundantly clear here is how much genuine fun Mr. Lee Roth is having! This is a delightful collaborative re-imagination of classic Van Halen tracks with various bluegrass and US folk music ensembles, love it!


Saturday, 24 December 2011

I'm a man, yes, I am... war hardened skeptic


This is the last entry I have transcribed from my father's wartime journal that has a definite date. There are some scraps of paper in between the pages that I will endeavour to decipher too...

Entry 10 - February 18th

Four and a half years ago when I first learnt that I was about to join White's, that career was shrouded in absolute mystery. Around it I wove a veil of romance. Three days in the drawing room office shattered the romance and broke my illusions, but, reviewing, in retrospect, those three and a half years once more I can feel the deeper feeling of respect for those traditions and institutions which have their basis in the office.

I can still remember that first whiff, a turgid, musty smell of old plans and papers along with unchanged air that came insidiously up the strongroom stairs as I watched Ginger, on my first morning there, open up the vault. I recall vividly the cricket and darts in the strongroom. The battles with paper pellets; being browned; holiday anticipation. All those things, which, at the time, seemed small and absurd but now contain, for me, a deeper meaning.

Personalities, too, return. The dominant, to us, tyrannous, Mr. Parker. The way he stalked in at 8:20am breaking up the happy era of mutual conversation with a brisk 'Good morning'. The way he turned round, resting on one elbow, to glare at some offender too long away from his board. Bill going in imperturbably, conscious, perhaps, only of his house, wide, garden and motorbike. Edgar: completely subservient to and docile under the pressing influence of the job in hand. The meticulous care of John Beasley, who talked French to me. Those fellows who worked because they were interested and keen and those who worked because it was the easiest solution of an unconquerable difficulty.

The atmosphere. The difference in the medium of the upper and lower offices. The sun and glazed cloth; drawn blinds and the upsetting of inkwells. The 'bog' with its pungent arcid aroma of stale tobacco pervading all other, probably more obnoxious, smells.

All these impressions and many more, too intangible and indefinite to be committed to paper, flash across my mind when I, in a new sphere, climb into flying clothes and parachute harness. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Drawing Office, the men and boys there for turning me from a callow youth into manhood. Now alienated from its environment I can judge its true merits with the ability that only complete detachment can competently give it.

It is indeed strange that two out of the triumvirate that held the lowest positions in the office in Aug '36 should have been failures, Ginger and myself (I wonder what happened to Ginger?). However, if I have failed Whites, Whites has not failed me for which I am grateful. It was inevitable I neither had the hereditary nor the environment which would have allowed me to be a success. Initially I was an outsider and an outsider I would have remained.

It has been indeed fortunate that I held no illusions concerning the Air Force. I never held any brief for the Services and never shall, but I firmly believe that while Whites made a man of me all the Services could add was the hardening, servility and scepticism necessary to face any eventuality the future might hold.

I value all those past associations with the whole office which now forms such lucrative food for thought.

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

Index to the journal:
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Friday, 23 December 2011

Tim Minchin - Away in Some (m)Anger...

This wee ditty from the extraordinary mind and talents of Mr Tim Minchin has been cut from the Jonathan Ross Christmas show because of ITV fearing a backlash from conservative Christibods... Oh dear oh dear... full story on Tim's blog here.

Enjoy, consider this a Seasonal Salutation!


Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent music - taking a great idea and...

Taking the idea made famous by Bob Dylan, this video from the small Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska , was a school computer project intended for the other Yupiq villages in the area. Much to the villagers' shock their 'little', project took off!

P h/t Pat Kirby

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Top 10 album listening during 2011 meme...

Compiled mainly from instinct as well as a detailed perusal of my iTunes stats and Spotify playlists... have stuck to albums that I listen to all the way through, as it is important to appreciate the the complete 'work' these artistes have created:
  1. Peter GabrielNew Blood.
    At the moment this is the CD I'm listening to the most and I cannot stress how much I absolutely love it! I am very much one of the compact Peter Gabriel (PG) post Genesis appreciation society that is delighted he is no longer part of his prog rock heritage. Apart from the hints in PG's evergreen 'Solsbury Hill', he very much chooses to leave the past where it belongs. Now his lyrical focus is less personal having become predominantly concerned with topics of international justice.

    This latest collection forms the 2nd part of this major orchestral project, the 1st release, 'Scratch my Back', featured covers from a variety of artistes who, in turn, would release covers of their fave PG song. New Blood is an intriguing selection right across PG's solo career, a subset of songs that were filmed in March this year (2011) for the DVD/BluRay and 3D concurrent release.

    As mentioned in my reviews, (Scratch my Back - New Blood) John Metcalfe's arrangements are seriously stunning, Tom Cawley's piano playing sublime and, along with Peter's brilliant vocals, they are the standout elements that make this such compelling listening. It is also important to note these arrangements are in a full, classical symphonic format. This is NOT Peter Gabriel's songs simply accompanied by orchestra, it is a much more significant piece of work than that. A surprising outcome is that some pieces that were favourites on his original recordings have been overtaken by some of the ones that, perhaps, were not appreciated so fully. For example, the wedding favourite 'In Your Eyes' is outshone by the more epic 'San Jacinto' and 'Digging in the Dirt', the latter my current top choice.

    Both 'Scratch my Back' and this 'New Blood' project have puzzled some of PG's ardent 'rock' fans, yet throughout the 3D filming session at the Appollo I noticed there was a more rapturous reception than at the initial outing in the 02 the previous year. Furthermore it is clear that this has gained PG a additional audience that now have now been seduced by the depth of his musical art through this adventurous and risky exploration of a radically different approach. It is a bit of an irony that such an established rock icon has found that this more orthodox classical accompaniement has enabled him to express himself with greater clarity than ever before.

    There are a number of formats to buy this fantastic release, with or without DVD, a version with instrumental only recordings on a bonus CD and a deluxe edition all packaged up together (yes, you've guessed, that's what I went for!)

  2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs.
    This year I went to see Arcade Fire with another one of my fave bands, Mumford and Sons, perform in Hyde Park. Along with a supporting cast which included the very wonderful Beirut it was a seriously splendid eve! There is something unique about Arcade Fire's music which sets them apart from many other bands. There is a sense of 'musical' anarchy where both instrumentation and song arrangements do not, in any way, follow the usual tried and trusted paths. The overall impression one gets listening to them live is how much energy comes over from an essentially acoustic line up: great vocals, great sounds and thoughtful lyrical ideas. I have already featured an excerpt from the album here, the transcendent 'Sprawl (Flatland)'

  3. Hope & Social - April.
    I saw this band at this year's Greenbelt Festival and they completely blew me away. With many bands that can really deliver live, hearing the recorded output can be tinged with disappointment, yet Hope & Social do not suffer from this problem. The band have set up their own studio and are clearly masters at capturing the characteristics of their endearing live performances. If you see they will be playing nearby, do not miss it, they are seriously good and superb fun. Fave track currently 'A Darkness Now Is Coming'.

  4. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What?
    The Beeb recently ran a documentary about the album 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' that both lifted Simon and Garfunkel into the music biz stratosphere yet paradoxically became their swansong as a duo. This prompted me to re-discover their output and Paul Simon's repetoire of solo work. His new album is delightfully quirky, utilising a return to basic methods of recording which gives it a freshness that more produced work would not have. And, of course, if you want some evergreen Paul Simon, you need look no further than the influential Graceland album.

  5. Jónsi - Go.This is the solo output from the guitarist and singer of cult Icelandic megastars Sigur Rós. Do check out the videos of the stage show, an assault of jaw dropping lighting and projected imagery that becomes one with the band of multi instrumetnalist musicians. I find the music deeply moving, the kind of music that 'gets to you' despite, on the whole, being created with an array of electronic synth type gizmos.

  6. Brandon Flowers - Flamingo.
    The Killers front man has turned in a really respectable solo effort and, despite the expectation of it being a 'Killers Lite' soundalike, allows Brandon to express more of himslef than he might do otherwise. So not only is he a great front man with a wonderful voice he now shows that he is a man of considerable depth. The lyrics include many religious references which the handful of videos made to promote this release bear out, see earlier post here.

  7. Coldplay - MYLO XYLOTO.
    Yes, OK, I confess, I actually like Coldplay! Although their latest offering seems to play very much into the stadium rock genre (including songs for the acoustic section in the middle of the set!), what entices me is the optimism of their music. It is as though they are done with experimentation, they've found their sound and now they can create song after song that seems to celebrate our very existence. Even the potentially sombre 'Fix You' from the X & Y album has hope for the future and lifts the spirits, whilst MYLO XYLOTO packs a joyful, foot tapping punch all the way.

  8. Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful.
    Whilst many music pundits think that Adam Young's voice is yet another Autotune special the simple fact is not only can he sing but his voice actually sounds like his recordings! The Owl City concept is very much his and indicates what a prodigious young talent he is, which I discussed briefly here. I love 'Deer Caught in the Headlights' with its audio, lyrical and visual nod to the 80s, and I'm sure I recognise those synth riffs?! Check out this unplugged version, too. I love the finely crafted tracks this guy produces, not too dissimilar to the amazing Imogen Heap, another artiste for whom it will be equally intriguing to see how they develop over the next couple of decades.

  9. Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel.
    I remember it was one of those wonderful moments making a long journey that one of the Soul Music series on BBC Radio 4 covered this piece. It was rally interesting to hear directly from violinist Tasmin Little about how she approached this minimalist music score. Of course, its simplicity masks the technique needed to allow the very beauty of its emptiness to lift the listener into the emotional heights which,ironically, reach down into your very core enabling succour to the spirit. It is, what I may venture to call, 'universal music'. By that I mean that it would be appreciated by folk from different cultures, disparate status and by every musician regardless of their chosen genre. Something to listen to either lift or soothe the spirit.

  10. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More.
    I have to include this, despite its 2009 release date, as I still listen to it so much! It's an amazing debut album, it doesn't suffer from many band's first studio efforts when they are prone to try lots of different styles and techniques once given the freedom of the recording process. I love the depth of the lyrics, love the energy that comes over even as an acoustic band and having heard some of their new songs live in Hyde Park very much looking forward to their next release.
Over to you, look forward to reading your compilations?


Saturday, 3 December 2011

From J Samuel White's to Wellington Bomber...

Picture from Bartie's Postcards

In this entry in my father's wartime journal dad remembers the start of his working day and some of the personnel at J. Samuel White & Co, shipbuilders on the Isle of Wight.

Entry 9 - February 9th

Today we have been flying. As I pulled on my flying boots and Mae West through my mind flew retrospective thoughts of home. I imagined myself back at work. Nine o'clock a busier hum would settle over the office. The late arrivals, drawing off their coats, would break into spasmodic chatter with their bench mates, leavened with chaff. Then Mr Parker arrives, briskly throwing out 'good mornings' on either side. Les and I would break up our huddle and with a sigh return to the common basis of work. Others, watching the censorious glance of Mr Parker, would carefully fold their 'Telegraphs' or 'Mirrors', according to age or taste, and emerge from their day dreams, dropping their castellated visions to grapple once more with reality. By the time Mr Brading arrives another day has begun.

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

Index to the journal:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent music with The Killers

The Killers invite Elton John and Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant to provide vocals on 'Joseph, Better You Than Me' with wonderful lyrical and theological insights. Note the subtle change in the refrain as the song develops:
From the temple walls to the New York night: Our decisions rest on a child
When she took her stand did she hold your hand?
Will your faith stand still or run away? Run away?
From the temple walls to the New York night: Our decisions rest on a man
When I take the stand, When I take the stand, Will he hold my hand?
Will my faith stand still or run away?
And my favourite line linking the 40 years and 40 days wilderness times:
And the desert, It's a hell of a place to find heaven