Summer now flying by and indeed the first stirrings of autumn: the birds have stopped singing and there is heavy dew in the morning. Before the summer broke – days and days of rain, which left all the flowers bedraggled – I made it down to Somerset and somewhat of an undiscovered gem: Exmoor. Lots of walks in beautiful country.
There are funny curios as well, like the steam railways running along the north coast near Minehead. It represents a memory of the past: silver service on the trains, oldie world stations, cardboard tickets and heavily upholstered seats.
And, lost domain like cafés/ craft shops – again, apparently from a time past.
I also went to view Blake’s cottage in Felpham, West Sussex. The poet William Blake only spent 3 years outside of London – and this is where. The Blake Society of St James, of which I was a founder member in the 1980s, managed to purchase the cottage last year when it came on the market for the first time in almost 100 years. The asking price was 500K GBP. Having begun a fundraising scheme, it managed to raise 50K in six months. Not enough. So, they let go of the idea of purchasing it. Then, an anonymous donor phoned up and offered the other 450K. As Blake said, ‘I live by miracles’.
Anyway, there are plans now to restore it to something like its original condition when Blake lived there and also build some sort of study/ retreat centre for those looking to dwell – scholarly or otherwise – in a Blakean spirit.
Every year, a rose small rose bush grows in my garden and produces a single rose, which it beckons me pick it and take into my home. This is this year’s:
Up to London for the Pink Floyd exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum. These ‘fashion/ pop exhibitions have become popular – and successful – in recent years, with high numbers attending. The current one follows others on Bowie, 60s Pop/ Rock Revolution. It adopts a similar format; chronological account of the band, lots of gear, original lyrics and stage designs, etc., and then a final ‘concert’ auditorium. This time, recording/ headphones were supplied, which turned off and on as you approached the various cabinets. Amazing. Lots of fun; although I do wonder what it is doing in a museum and little or no effort is made to offer any sort of socio-cultural account of the Pink Floyd phenomenon.
Meanwhile, down on Chichester, I go to the Pallant House Gallery for the John Minton (1917-1957) exhibition. Minton was very much part of the romantic revival of the English pastorale, with the likes of Nash, Sutherland, etc. Good to see the development of his work. An amazing graphic artist, able to render detail in a formidable way. Yet, he seemed to get distracted in designing book covers, for which there was a big demand, and eventually lost his vision almost all together, ending his life at a relatively young age. Enjoyable, but the sense of dying creativity was rather palpable as the exhibition proceeded.
July always marks WOMAD time (World of Music, Arts and Dance), which is really a festival of music and arts from around the world: Africa, Europe, South America, Asia.
Partly the brain child of the rock star Peter Gabriel, the first festival was in 1982 in Shepton Mallet. I missed the first one, which was an artistic success but a financial disaster: so, much so that Gabriel’s former band Genesis had to reform with him to do a benefit to cover the expenses and costs. There then followed years of uncertainty moves in siting: Mersea Island, Clevedon, Bracknell, Carlyon Bay, Morecombe, Brighton, London, Bristol. I certainly remember a free festival in Bristol, which was pretty much on orange boxes – the whole carried by the enthusiasm of those involved. My first festival was in London’s ICA in 1983, and was really one of those personal epiphanies for me – I had never quite seen anything like it. The first half was a group of Aboriginal musicians. If that was not enough to ‘blow the mind’, the second have had the 9 piece West African drum troupe (and dancers) Ekome from Bristol. They just played non-stop. I remember it was a hot summer evening and the audience just started stripping off. Very powerful for an impressionable young man. Anyway, many festivals followed, both in England (especially Reading and Charlton Park) and around the World. A book has just come out by another co-founder – Thomas Brooman. Going through his list, I counted I had been to 35 events in its 35 year history, including Winter Warmers and one-day events.
My book of the month is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Ishiguro, of course, is a famed novelist, selling millions of books and famed for The Remains of the Day. The Buried Giant is his most recent, and appeared after a 10 year gap. Generally, it was not well reviewed, which I think is wrong. Critiques said it was too Tolkienesque for apparently being set in the past – King Arthur’s time. I think this is unfair, however. To me, it is an allegory, which could just as easily be set in the distant future – a bit like Richard Jefferies’ After London, Wild England – kind of post-apocalypse. For me it is exploring issues of post-colonialism and even post-modernism and the state, with this key note of memory/ forgetfulness. It is also elegiac, dwelling on the nature of love between individuals and the way they build their lives on it. A very special novel in my view.
My CD of the month is actually a record: of a CD of a record. That is the re-issue/ remastered version of Peter Gabriel’s Passion album (1988): now on 180 vinyl, and half-speed – played at 45 rpm. This is music he recorded for the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on Nicos Kazantzakis’ novel. The book re-tells the Christ story, with a meditation of the faces of evil and temptation. Gabriel wrote a soundtrack drawing on traditional musics from the Middle-east, interspersed with modern synthesisers, and indeed music from Africa and India more broadly. In this new all-analogue version, the tonic sonority is truly amazing to bathe in.