It’s been steadily growing over the past few years and for one reason or another, I’ve not actually attended. This year, I finally managed to get my ass in gear and get along to the musical takeover of Leeds.
First thing to note is that the venues are spread out. Although Leeds has a very compact city centre, there was only a handful of venues in walking distance of each other with the Brudenell Social Club ( my favourite venue in Leeds), the University and Leeds Met all a short cab ride or long walk away.
I don’t think this was a major issue but it did require careful planning if you wanted to see your favourite bands as logistics were an issue. We decided to stay pretty central with great venues like the cockpit, Leeds Trinity church, Milo and Wardrobe all hosting interesting, if obscure bands.
This approach would pay dividends, leaving our schedule in the flexible hands of the gods. I think at music festivals it is possible to plan too much – my experience is that is a schedule is rigorously followed then the serendipitous discovery of music is missed.
First up was xxx as Trinity church. A lovely venue this, where I’d previously seen BSP deliver a sublime performance, and it definitely produces a reverential atmosphere as one of the oldest churches in the city centre. Ethereal pop tunes wafted across the crowd and we decided that we should move on.
That’s another thing about music festivals: it’s all about the timing and unless the performer is smashing it, it’s always time to move on.
Next up was a random pick at Milo. The X Cat Trio billed themselves as ‘punk skiffle’ and someone said – perhaps it was me – its the yorkshire stray cats. This was enough for me and we crammed into what is probably one of the smallest venues I’ve ever been in. We found ourselves literally toe to toe with the band which was an exciting visceral experience. The trio bounced out rockabilly skiffle tunes for half an hour and it was the most fun I’ve had in a gig for a long time. It reminded me why I love live music and for me set Live at Leeds alight. Wonderful.
A short respite over Cocktails at Maven ( well worth a look if you get the chance) and we headed off to the Cockpit to see teenybopper combo The 1975. We were faced with near riot conditions outside the venue with a one in one out rule in operation, clearly this was a band people wanted to see. With our press wristbands we eventually managed to get in to a rammed cockpit. The 1975 are a perfectly serviceable pop rock band that we’ve seen plenty of times before and this seems to be the 2013 version. We left after a few songs so someone who wanted to see them could get in.
Time was marching on, but a gig goer marches on his stomach so we decamped to the Aagrah for a swift curry and catch up with friends. That’s the other thing to point out about LAL – you have to be the gig going equivalent of speedy Gonzales to get anywhere near seeing a lot of bands. The pace is frenzied and probably aimed at a younger, dedicated crowd.
As we tucked into lamb chops we shared experiences and planned our next gig. We opted for Leeds legend Mickey P Kerr at Milo. I’d first seen MPK at Leeds festival a few years ago on the unsigned stage and loved his eclectic mix of poetry (in the John Cooper Clarke vein), folk, rapping and hip hop. Upstairs at Milo was predictably rammed with folk who knew his stuff inside out and it was a cracking half hour with laugh out loud observations and gat tunes. Must go see him do a full gig next time.
It was getting late now and we were flagging so more cocktails ensued and our gigging ended when we met with fellow Globetroffers for a final drink or two. I wished that we’d seen more bands but the ones we did see were excellent and in their own way a perfect snapshot of Live at Leeds. It got me in the mood for live music in small venues and to that end it was massively successful and it was great to see the city centre thronged with music lovers albeit the worse for wear as the day wore on.
Live at Leeds is a fantastic key component to the cultural life of the city and I’d love to see it grow further. It captures beautifully what Leeds is about from the commercial to the quirky, from the up and coming to the unsigned…we have plenty of corporate music opportunity now the arena has finally landed but LAL provides a vital stepping stone in the musical life of Leeds.
I’ve written many times about British Sea Power on this blog and I make no apologies about how much I love their music.
April 2013 saw the release of their 6th studio album Machineries of Joy (if you count the controversial soundtrack-only Man of Aran, which I do) and after a two-year hiatus where the band has concentrated on trialling new material and hosting the eccentric Krankenhaus club nights in Brighton, the band are back on the road touring a new album.
The album has been lauded by the critics perhaps slightly more than usual with phrases like ‘coming of age’ and ‘good to have them back’ and whilst this is always a good sign, the audience will be the judge of that. It;’s fair to say that BSP plough their own persistent furrow, doggedly avoiding anything that can be vaguely described as commercial.
Although their anti-cash-making instincts may have eluded them with Machineries of Joy.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Thriller. It’s not an album that they can retire to the South of France on, in fact I doubt if they will be able to retire to South London on it. But there is a more grown up acceptance of who they are and a lush production job makes up for their earlier sparsely produced affairs. There’s a great mix of stomping rockers and melodious, large format tunes that deliver the most satisfying album since Do You Like Rock Music? Time will tell if this album can deliver above that (and I think it can) but what I do know if the new songs are a revelation live and this is usually where BSP and their audience get to know the new album.
Last week was the Leeds Met UNi gig and this is a thrillingly small venue with enough space to get a decent audience in and I’ve seen a good few BSP gigs there. This time seemed different somehow – yes they delivered familiar crowd pleasers Remember Me, Carrion et al – but only after we’d been hypnotised for an hour with mesmerizing, melodic tunes. Usually I’d be getting agitated that everything wasn’t kicking off, but not this time.
It almost seemed like they’d slipped into another gear: happy to be delivering raucous rock anthems to the faithful but alongside these they seemed to have more faith in their ability to inhabit the expansive spaces of Machineries of Joy. BSP has always about the contradiction of orchestral and full tilt guitar but these have often been at odds with each other, requiring different sets or in some cases evenings. But something has changed somehow, a small but discernible shift in the band that could open doors for them.
I’m looking forward to seeing what might happen at this next stage…
Many thanks to Carl Milner for the superb selection of images – more here
If you love photography in any way then you will know all about Ansel Adams. His strikingly beautiful black and white photography of the American wilderness is timeless and majestic.
All students of photography will know his work inside out and those of us who haven’t looked too closely will surely recognise his iconic work from many an office calendar or coffee table book. His most famous images were amazingly shot in the 1920s and 30s and their freshness to this day is testament to the visionary talent of the photographer.
Adams was one of the first photographers to embrace ’photographic realism’ – photographs that showed everything pin sharp, as the eye sees it. Up until then, photography was very much an extension of romantic art with blurred, artistic edges and soft focus techniques. Adams was also a founding member of the F64 club – an elite bunch of photographers committed to the realistic depiction of their subject matter using the smallest aperture on the camera lens which delivered the deepest depth of field.
I was also intrigued by Adams’ criticism by fellow documentary photographers who felt that he and his fellow F64ers should be photographing the grim reality of dustbowl recession in America. Adams remained committed to his work and stuck resolutely to nature photography, claiming not unreasonably that his work was art someone had to continue with it amidst the gloom of the period. Some of the most iconic photography comes from this period with Dorothea Lange leading the field with unflinching investigative journalism and Ansel Adams creating timeless, nourishing images.
A large body of Adams work is currently being shown at The National Maritime museum in Greenwich, with prints that don’t travel cross the Atlantic that often. I made the trip across London not really knowing what to expect as photography exhibitions can leave me a little ambivalent.
The show was beautifully staged and full of drama. Well designed with lots of moments throughout, the exhibition contained a wide selection of water related imagery – which is much of his work to be honest – showcasing the handsome imagery to full effect.
Adams huge body of work must take some interpreting. He was a hugely prolific image maker (not taker, please note) and finding a meaningful narrative in his work must take some doing as many of his images are riffs on texture, time, repetition, movement, reflection and stillness. In some ways his work is documentary in style and to that end, can lack depth in the beauty presented.
But it is the large format prints that take the breath away and this is where he excels. Where the vignettes titillate, the vistas take the viewer by surprise, delivering life-size monochromatic Californian scenery. My personal favourite s winter storm clearing the half dome in Yosemite, an image alive with the unpredictability of a winter storm in the High Sierra.
The show is well worth catching but you’d need to look sharp: it finishes at the end of April, but it is well worth the effort and the rather excellent National Maritime Museum adds to the value of the excursion.
When the kids were younger we would go to the gym regularly on a weekend – they would go in kids club and we would go have a good workout. I seemed to have enough time back then to fit in at least another 3 or 4 workouts a week around that. You kind of get into a rhythm on it.
But as the kids grew and circumstances gradually changed it for some reason became quite hard to fit the gym into our lives. I still played tennis though but over time as new jobs happened, this too dissipated.
Although I still kept quite active with long walks and the occasional sporadic burst of activity, keeping fit slipped down my personal agenda and if you’ve read my posts over on Globetroffers, you wouldn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce I might put on a bit of timber as we say in the North.
And then earlier this year, Mrs D got her determined head on and decided enough was enough – she was going to do something about her fitness. This was definitely borne out of the annual slobbing around at Christmas and turning over a new leaf in January routine, but this time it felt different. So we went back to our old gym where we were founding members back in 1997, Virgin Active. It’s still a vibrant, busy place and was as good a place as any to start the journey back to some kind of fitness for us both.
Julie joined first and I soon after, getting the taste for it. It’s interesting how a different mindset kicks in: a determination to do something about it. For me it was principally about losing the rather manly belly I’d developed and getting some fitness back, feeling better and having more energy. Work in recent times has been brutal with lots of travelling, stress and eating the wrong kind of stuff (although my diet isn’t so bad, I do have dirtbag food tendencies) and I had to do something to mitigate this.
So the obligatory induction session with a young fitness coach called Philip got me hooked in again – evidently it was all change in gym-land with the high-tech machines shunned for old school freeform exercise using what are essentially medieval torture instruments to beat your muscles into submission. Kettle bells, climbing frames and huge rubber tubes called Viprs all formed the new workout regime.
My inbuilt geek alarm sounded at 115 decibels and of course, I had to get some new gym kit. The old stuff was simply not up to scratch being a few years old and following in the tracks of other middle-aged men in other sports, notably cyclists, I had to get my hands on the latest gear. Nike is my brand of choice and after identifying the latest shoes – flyknit neon yellow trainers, see header pic – I hunted out some rather slimming Dri Fit black kit and we were away.
Now I don’t know about you, but at my age – 49 – I need additional ‘encouragement’ to get this fitness party started. So I signed up for a personal trainer, the same young chap who showed me the ropes (as it were) when I started, Philip. I have an hour a week with him and he essentially puts me through physical hell, thinly disguised as a lifestyle choice.
As it happens, Philip is excellent and by the looks of it, the pick of the trainers at the gym. Every week we do something different – we never do the same things twice and it’s never dull.
It’s torture, but not dull torture.
I couldn’t walk for three days after the first session, the second session resulted in me not being able to lift a fork to my mouth to eat and the third session made it impossible for me to get off the sofa. This sounds horrendous I fully realise but the sessions themselves are hugely enjoyable and I look forward to the day when I am a) able to complete the tasks competently and b) not feel it until Wednesday.
I’ve had a rugby inspired session that I loved because it’s a game I love and played back in the day, a tennis focused session as I’m keen to pick up my racquet again this summer and the latest, a round of pugilistic boxing training. All hugely knackering but highly enjoyable. Philip keeps time and pushes gently, assessing what my limits are and by and large, ignoring these and pushing me on further.
In my 50th year, I figure now is a good time to reclaim my body from the slow and inevitable decline that is around the corner. I’m starting to feel fitter and although the aches and pains are still lasting a little longer than I would like, by the summer we should see some progress. I also have my eye on a couple of jackets I want to start wearing again!
This is an interesting exercise by Italian designer Roberto Vigati Santos.
Take well-known superheroes. Then add global super brands and make the most appropriate connections.
Hey Presto – we get a result that I’m not 100% comfortable with but one that’s probably closer to the real world.
I like the combination on commercial brand prowess and superpowers.
This month’s book club choice was A Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling. Coming off the back of last month’s shocker, I was looking forward to reading a proper book ie a book that has a story, characters and dialogue. Well I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s worth saying up front that I came to this book fresh to Rowling’s writing. She has made her millions of course as the creator of the Harry Potter universe and although I’ve seen most of the films, I haven’t read any of her books. I don’t think her skill as an author has ever been in doubt as the Potter franchise demonstrates a vivid and lucid imagination at work with a steady storytelling hand on the tiller. But what would her first ‘proper’ book be like?
A Casual Vacancy is a real departure for Rowling in that a) it’s a book for adults and b) it’s a book about modern life in all its tedium and tragedy in suburban Britain in 2013. She’s clearly had enough of wizards and mudbloods and is now focusing in on the minutiae of ordinary life in the home counties. Set in the fictitious town of Pagford, A Casual Vacancy uses the death of a local parish councillor and his replacement’s election to tell a number of stories, each delicately weaved around each other.
Rowling zooms right in on the themes of class, social mobility, drug issues, poverty and wealth distribution with plenty of sharp insights. At times it felt a little like she was ticking off boxes – social alienation, tick. Teenage self harm, tick. Cyber bullying, tick. Posh folks having run ins with local chavs, tick. She definitely piles it all in.
Interesting to note that the adult characters she portrays are all pretty unlikable, apart from the dead councillor who we never meet. Predictably Rowling shows more compassion when writing about the teenage characters which is perhaps where her true feelings lie.
It’s over a week since I’ve read this book and that’s always a good test – what has stayed and what has started to fade. I found this book entertaining and as the book reached it’s somewhat predictable denouement it certainly engaged me but at the same time I was left wanting more. Maybe the book spreads itself too thin, trying to cover all the key issues facing modern suburbanites or maybe Rowling is just too lightweight a writer to really go for the jugular, I’m not sure.
But it’s worth a read: the pages skip by and her style is light and engaging, quickly eating up the hefty page count. The book club discussion was, as usual, insightful and enlightening with a good range of scores making for a great evening’s discussion.
I’m glad we read it but I’m ready for a literary heavyweight to my teeth into and the next book we’re reading (at long last) is The Great Gatsby. Tune in next time to see what we made of it!
Cornwall is a special place for me.
The first time I ever visited was just before we were married and it has been a constant in our lives ever since. I’m not quite sure what it is that captures my imagination, it just feels so completely different to Yorkshire and if I think about it, pretty much most counties in the UK.
As the traveller heads South West in England, the counties get more mystical the further west one travels. From the ancient prehistoric majesty of the stones in Wiltshire, to the spirituality of Glastonbury in Somerset and the deceptive chocolate box beauty of Devon, these are all precursors to the unique county (or some would say country in itself) of Cornwall.
We holidayed with the kids for many years in Cornwall, camping at the same campsite – Rose Hill in Porthtowan – on the North Coast. Cornwall is a small county and it doesn’t take many visits to become accustomed to its charms. The North coast has the crashing drama of the Atlantic and the south coast has a delicate coast of inlets and beautiful ports. The land in between ranges from rolling countryside awash with sleepy villages and hamlets, seemingly lost in time, surrounded by rugged moorland and magical valleys locked in their own eco systems.
It does have an otherworldly feel too. The far western tip of the county is the western most point on mainland UK and this feels like nowhere else in the country and the Lizard peninsula to which it is attached is full of mystery and Cornish legend. There are of course more workaday cities and towns in Cornwall that to be fair look and feel very similar to every other high street in the country, but that seems to be the blight of modern living with homogenised towns and to some degree lifestyle.
Cornwall does its own thing and wears its tourism crown lightly. In summer, the tourist hotspots and jammed and the spectacular beaches full to bursting, just as they should be with tourism being the major source of income. In the winter it has a very different feel. The masses have long gone and the towns and cities get back to living a relatively normal life.
This week I took the girl down to Falmouth for her University interview. She’s looking at a few options and Falmouth University College is one of them. Falmouth on a cold, stormy day in February is actually pretty good. There are still a few half-term visitors milling about listlessly and the locals and students seem quite happy to have the place to themselves.
We booked into a very nice B&B and whilst the girl was being interviewed, I had a wander. I know Falmouth very well of course from previous visits as it was always our default place to visit on a wet day when the beach wasn’t an option. It’s always therefore a surprise to me that the sun does shine there from time to time. Falmouth has an edge to it in comparison to some other towns in Cornwall and I think it’s the seafaring history and although lots of the maritime links have long gone, there is still a large ship repair yard on the outskirts of the town.
In 1688, Falmouth was made the Royal mail packet station and news from around the world landed there first, including the Victory of Trafalgar and nelson’s death. I was also quite taken with the fact that Darwin landed here in the Beagle after his voyage of discovery that changed the way we think about evolution. The excellent book by Harry Thompson This thing of darkness uses Darwin’s voyage of discovery to wonderful effect – I wrote about it here.
It’s this history that adds to the atmosphere in the town and although it’s generations since British sea power ruled the waves, Falmouth still proudly sits at the mouth of one of the worlds most stunning natural estuaries, waiting for its time again.
In the meantime, I enjoyed a cracking pasty, had a very nice pint of Doombar and hope the daughter gets a place at the University ensuring plenty of future visits.