Thursday 22 August 2013


We're all going on a blogging holiday,
No more posting for a week or two.

Friday 16 August 2013


...and moves instead to the Aeolian Islands. (A few miles to their North.) Full set to be found on Flickr here.

Flickr's new look is frankly pretty rubbish, and seems designed to look as much like Google Image Search as is possible. Which is daft, not only for the reason that Google Image Search is already doing that. Google Image Search never looks very tidy, it's jumble of images look like you've tipped a load of old photos out of an envelope. And that's fine for what it is, you sift through it looking for some image to take your eye.

Perhaps the individual pictures should have been displayed larger in Flickr, but it looked like that it was – the on-line version of a personal photo album. Now it looks like you've just dumped your photos somewhere. For your best viewing pleasure, click on the first image to get the black background, then use the nav-chevrons.

I would seem to be not the only critic of these changes. The change seems so desperate I suspect Yahoo will either drop it or go down themselves. But I may as well keep uploading to it for now. So in other words...

Coming soon! More pictures of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands.

Sunday 11 August 2013


St. George's Church, Brighton, Fri 9th Aug

This marks, by my reckoning, the fifth time I've managed to see Patti Smith and every time just seems to enrich the overall experience. Returns multiply rather than diminish.

The time before last, I confidently stated that her music was at root about transformation. Though perhaps 'generalised' would be a better term. Inevitably, for someone so keen on such a suubject, she was never going to stick to just that.

Transformation is a description which best fits her first two albums, 'Horses' and 'Radio Ethiopia'. They're made up less of songs or compositions than tracks; hallucongenic poetry cross-bred with the convulsive storm of electric instruments, until the desired systematic derangement of the senses arrives. You know instinctively, even on first hearing, they're tapping into something incohate. What you have isn't a finished work so much as just one mainifestation from a potentially infinite variety. The two albums finish the only way they could, in the primordial chaos of 'Abyssinia', Smith less delivering lines than outpouring shards of imagery.

This night however, was much more focused on what Patti did next – become a classic, if unorothodox, songwriter. Perfectly suited to it's Church venue, grand yet initimite, it was an acoustic affair. The drummer didn't even show up on stage until several songs in, and sat on a stiff-backed chair behind his one drum. There were only two tracks from those early albums, the more song-based 'Redondo Beach' (with lyrics rewritten on the fly to reflect Brighton beach) and the classic 'Pissing In a River'. (The latter, which has always been something of a gospel number, working particularly well.)

This threw an emphasis on Smith's singing and words, often drowned in the multi-tracked cacophony of the early albums. Billed 'an evening of music and words', it also featured readings from her autobiography 'Just Kids'. (Which I have to confess to being yet to read.)

It was probably most similar to the Bexhill gig. (Ironically the performance which led to my ruminations on transformation) It had the same impromptu feel, with Smith claiming breezily she'd bumped into one band member on the beach. At the start of the encore, she stopped to ask if anyone in the audience could play guitar, then promptly handed the volunteer hers. He stayed onstage for the rest of the night, and took his bow with them. But overall it was better than Bexhill; smoother, more relaxed, it's chances more talking flight, it's road less bumpy.

Smith has a penchent for throwing in unexpected cover versions, and as ever these arrived like curveballs. 'Summertime Blues' was infectious fun, but for example a cover of Lennon's 'Beautiful Boy' (apparantly first performed at Meltdown) didn't add much to one of his weaker numbers. While you should expect the unexpected with Smith, at such times I couldn't help but reflect on all the numbers we weren't getting. (For example no 'Paths That Cross', a personal favourite which would have suited the line-up.)

Notably, however, the whole audience kept a keen ear. While everything was well-received, it was the highlights which won the most rapt applause. Perhaps they were just hard to miss. If you didn't get goose-bumps during 'Pissing In a River' or 'Beneath The Southern Cross', you probably don't have a pulse.

In 'My Blakean Year', she sings of the road paved with gold and the road that's “just a road.” There are not many butter adverts to contend with when it comes to Patti Smith. She's walked the long road for decades now, with no sign of stumbling. If she's not an inspiration, I can't imagine what is.

In the unlikely event of anyone being interested, here's what I said last time.

There seems a dearth of footage of this gig, perhaps because of her open antagonism to being photographed onstage. This version of 'Beneath the Southern Cross', from Palermo earlier in the month, looks to be a semi- acoustic break in an electric gig but may convey some of the feeling...


Sunday 4 August 2013


Barbican Centre, London, Fri 28th June

'Landfall: Scenes From My New Novel', to give it's full title, is a new compositon by Laurie Anderson in its European premiere. The programme itself pointed out what an unusual combination this was. For Anderson isn't a composer or even really much of a musician. She's more an artist and performer following her own muse, which at times takes on the form of music. It's even described as a novel in it's own title!

While, for all their commisioning of scores and ceaseless boundary-pushing, the Kronos Quartet are at root a string quartet whose business is to perform recitals from scores. (I previously saw them in this very room, hammering at scraps at metalwhile still diligently referring to those scores.)

Given which, what's perhaps strangest of all is that the majority of this piece is so conventionally harmonic. However, while strident modernists might hear those words and head for the exit door, it was for the most part exquisite and enthralling, the sort of score where you find yourself clinging to every note.

Anderson sometimes joined in with the quartet on her patented violin. At other, often overlapping, points she'd contribute electronic beats, washes and textures. The fuzzy thumps contrasted satisfyingly against the crystal-clear sound of the strings.

Perhaps the only serious musical criticism was that there wasn't enough of it! Themes and sections could pass by on speed dial, too quickly to properly absorb. One chanting piece, with something of the widescreen grandeur of Arabic pop, seemed to suggest at a whole new direction. But this path was abandoned after what felt like a few strides. Nor, at seventy-nine minutes, did the overall length seem too great, especially by Anderson's previous endurance-pushing standards.

Anderson also contributed some of her spoken word pieces. When I'd previously seen her at an old Brighton Festival, the words had worked as the bones of the piece, with the ambient music acting more as interludes. Here things were reversed, which perhaps did not work as well. Anderson's style is not poetic but conversational; her serene voices seduces you into believing you're being told something quite everyday, and everything lives in the lag as your brain catches up with your ear. The New York Times commented her work “suggested logic while defying sense.”

However anti-poetic words do not necessarily lend themselves to music, and I found my brain effectively having to switch gears between the vocal and the instrumental sections. In truth, at times those gears ground. I couldn't help but be reminded of reading a review of Bowie's live re-enactment of 'Low,' commenting how he'd intercut the songs and instrumentals, despite their being separate on record. Though the reviewer thought this an improvement, to me it seemed like cutting chalk with cheese. Ultimately, I found myself wishing 'Landfall' had emulated the recorded version, and kept the spoken word sections together.

The back projections, where software converted the notes of the quartet into words, made for an enjoyable and intriguing extra dimension. Though they also felt a little like an attempt to Polyfilla this separation.

Admittedly, it was clear why Anderson chose to pair the two up in terms of their content. The title 'Landfall' is (at least in part) a refrerence to her studio being flooded when Hurricane Sandy struck New York. At one point she recounts watching her belongings swirling in the water, and you cannot held but keep hold of that image as the strings roll through the final movement.

Though the storm, however mighty, is here no more than the pathetic fallacy. There's no attempt to convey its power through musical drama, or document events as 9/11 pieces have often done. In the genre of 'modernist disaster response composition', it works more metaphorically, more like Bryars' 'Sinking of the Titanic.'

Anderson's world is internal, contemplative, and the flooded studio evokes the anti-linearity of memory. Memories will break the waterline to swirl in your mind, appearing at times to coalesce into clumps, but only ever temporarily. Perhaps the music was supposed to itself represent the swelling water, subsuming the landmass of the words.

But despite caveats this work was highly effective overall. The Guardian review of the premiere in Adelade suggests it divided the audience. From where I sat in the Barbican it won an effusive round of applause from us.