This page is intended to highlight what is currently going on/ new posts, etc.
This page is intended to highlight what is currently going on/ new posts, etc.
Much of April was spent on various activities in South America. Therefore, report and photos here seem to be a bit of a travelogue. However, the general thrust of things will be clear.
Before leaving I was guest at the press day that Robert Fripp gave in London:
A rich and full day of address and questions: really, to acknowledge the 50thanniversary of the formation of King Crimson. Many special anecdotes, comments, observations – many of which will go into my ongoing writing on the same. I have already produced a lengthy piece on King Crimson I/ 1969 which appeared on the DGM page:
Also, a shorter essay to be found here:
Then, quickly flights to south America. Time to catch up with my favourite cat – Hiro.
We have a Musica en Moviemientocourse, with some 20+ participants including 17 players. Really good to see this initiative now taking off with its own momentum. Many more events planned for the forthcoming months including another performance project I shall be attending in November.
More socializing and catching up with friends and acquaintances. Fooling around with a Phone app with Lucho:
What will they think of doing next?
I take a trip down to Patagonia. Spectacular vistas of glaciers and mountain scenery in the vicinity of Calafate:
I then travel on to Santiago, Chile, where I give a lecture on King Crimson I / 1969 at the university there. A good crowd in the audience and a great team to interpret for me
Amazing in-depth level of knowledge over KC history here – and great excitement for forthcoming shows. My Powerpoint lecture is here – minus the audio files:
After the show I get to enjoy Peruvian food and their version of Pisco sour:
I am then treated to a few days on the Pacific Ocean. Great treat with spectacular sunsets. Also, incredible beaches and wild life:
Being in Argentina and Chile, my listening/ reading has been influenced by this. So, my book of the month is People in the Roomby Norah Lange. It first appeared in the 1950s and is by the Argentinian writer Lange who somewhat pre-dated nouveau romanwith its focus on the narrator and the stories she invents after spying on three women across the street; therefore, disclosing her own relationship to life, dying and relationships. As she concludes, ‘As long as they’re here. Nothing will happen’, before realizing that the ‘only thing to have happened was my fear’. So, partly a story of overcoming fear and how.
My CD of the month is Frecuencia Lex– Chilean electronic pop. Lovely driving beats around infectious sound tonalities and melodies!!
Spring has crept in a little further in this part of the world: so, some lovely days and spring flowers. Trips to the countryside. However, as I write, it is pouring with rain, cold and with intermittent sleet. It must be the UK!
Whilst dwelling on pastoral matters, a FB friend posted this rather charming photo of Mousehole – my families home village – and I cannot resist sharing it here. This dear little house is now a gift shop and has been for a long while – just two doors down from the family home. I guess this would be in the 1930s.
Some focus on music this month.
Firstly, I went to see a Roy Harper gig in the splendid context of the London Palladium. It was a real London show with rock celebrities rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the general public. Roy was on form with a backing group – including strings. Apparently, a ‘farewell tour’ if not ‘farewell gig’ – well, advancing years define their own logic.
I saw Roy many times in Bristol in the early 70s. A troubadour character rather than a singer songwriter (although that as well). Often, he spoke as much as he played and could certainly tell a story. It was all very dangerous in those days. Now rather more of pathos of ‘what happened next!’. Of course, he ended with ‘When an Old Cricketeer leaves the Crease’ – that peon to Englishness, mortality, and the mystique of a game of life:
Secondly, I have been writing about King Crimson and Robert Fripp – especially with respect to business and management matters. Quite interesting and shocking. In the 1950s, it was not uncommon for a manager to simply ‘employ’ a musician and pay them a wage. In the 1960s, and with the rise of The Beatles, this gave way to percentage deals with small-scale business men; often with quite a bit of both exploitation and mistakes committed. By the late 60s and into the 70s, the ‘rock star’ manager arrived: who shared in the Rock and Rock life style. In the opposite direction, some musicians became business men. The fact that they often made not a very good job of this resulted in the rise of the ‘accountant manager’. This happened with the original company that managed King Crimson and others. So, began the practice of setting up multiple accounts: and borrowing from one to finance another. This resulted in the non payment of royalties because the management company were in debt; but in debt because of monies lent to another company – that the manager also owned, and paid themselves handsome dividends from. As they say, the day the ‘bean counters’ took over in a way which was soon to affect the rest of the economy. Anyway, an iconic doorway in the Kings Road – home of EG:
Thirdly, John Beresford reminds me that it was Mothering Sunday fifty years ago that we both heard a Sunday broadcast by the then up and coming folk singer Ralph McTell. This was the first time we heard such songs asStreets of London, Daddy’s Here, and Mrs Adlam’s Angels. Obviously, we were both somewhat taken by these, and it led to a life-long attachment to this man and his music/ work.
John manages the Ralph McTell fan page on the web.
I went on to write a book about Ralph:
John and I finally met when he came south to interview me about the book:
Finally, I do not normally go in for obituraries, but could not not mention sadness at hearing of the passing of Scott Walker. Originally, ‘just’ another crooner, he went on to turn an essentially conservative art form into something more than avant-garde. However, I still love the originals as well: this one his version of a remarkable Neil Diamond song:
Up in London for the Anti-Brexit march.
This is England 2019. When I first came to London in the 80s it was possible to walk down Downing Street – home of the Prime Minister – and have one’s photo taken in front of No 10. Now it is barred off and with heavily armed policemen. Progress??!!
A remarkable exhibition in the Tate Modern of the surrealist painter Dorothea Tanning:
Very lively and thought provoking. She certainly did not stand still and, later in life diversified into sculpture, novels and poetry and indeed broader painting. Quite interesting to set her next to my group of female surrealists: Agar, Carrington, Af Klimt, Houghton and, of course, Colquhoun.
My book/ CD of the month both seem to deal with Landscape. First, some Estonian music:
And then the classic by Barry Lopez: Arctic Dreams. By the technique of simply describing the lives of living creatures found there – polar bears, whales, oxen – some of them of teutonic strength, he manages with great pathos to highlight their innocence and vulnerability, all whilst identifying the complexity and sophistication – as well as danger – their lives entail. It is a level of life that men are constantly eroding.
Even though the context is very different, I share with Lopez the sense of the Arctic Landscape and its creatures taking you into it on its own terms. The poetry resides simple in the awareness and recognition of its ways of life. One can never really know a landscape – no matter how many times one crosses it – and it is one where living creatures kill and are killed to maintain life; but never, as with man, simply for the sport. Life in such landscape is always the same and always changing.
February, they often say, is a wicked month. Not quite so this year – generally, it was agreed that as these things go it was quite gentle. Of course, there is a sinister side to this with global warming and climate change. Certainly, in my part of the world, it iswarmer. I live in the country and have a coal fire for the coldest days; except that I have not had to use it either last year or this. Another feature of this recent phenomenon is that weather appears in various extremes: such is the case:
But, the days are lengthening now. My catching up from being away is now overlapping with my preparations for being away again. Still, have been involved in various projects. One has been reconnecting a little with the work of J G Bennett. I read all the books before, so it is always a good idea to re-read them with distance; certainly, sometimes there are new insights. Such was the case with the book ‘Making a Soul’which actually ends up with JGB describing what happens after death. The question of whether it is true or not is slightly eclipsed with his ambition for having a go. Then on to Hazard:
JGB wrote a lot and of varying levels – indeed quality. There are some aspects that I would stand by as helpful; others that seem rather confused, or just out of date. Occasionally, there is the sense that he had to lecture and needed a topic. There is a touch about this with the Hazardlectures. Of course, Bennett has to systematize everything, tidying it up into one grand theory – which is debatable. And, Hazard is obviously related to accident, the arbitrary, chance, luck and the pre-ordained – not to mention time, will, creativity, choice, freedom – hyparxis. But, the first lecture in the books floats around somewhat without him pinning it: of course it is important but why? and how? He has a go at answering these questions.
This work is part of my re-engagement with Fourth Way work (see note in January 2019).
Some good art exhibitions in London at the moment. I missed a few after being away. But, the Bonnard is very good. Actually, the reviews have been a little critical – not of the exhibition but of the artist himself. They find him insular, petty, repetitive. But, surely that is the whole point: his commitment to seeing beyond the domestic, a bit like the Degas portraits. There is a repetition and yes sometimes he seems to lose interest. But, it would be hard to not be seduced by the intensity of his coloration:
Music and book wise, this month I have had a bit of an Irish renaissance. Firstly, my CD of the month is Brenda Malloy: Irish and Renaissance Harps.
Despite the somewhat twee cover, the solo harp playing on this CD is first rate and offers pretty much what it says – pieces from Ireland along with England, Scotland, Italy and Spain. I love her playing as it seems to have both depth and texture. I certainly prefer it to the classical stylization of Derek Bell, or the contemporary vibe of Alain Stivell – not that these are no also very listenable.
I first came across Brenda when she was playing on the pavement in front of Trinity College, Dublin when I worked there. Surprisingly, it is not always easy to find the best Irish music in the pubs of Dublin – Temple Bar can be a bit thrash and shout. However, sometimes it is better just to wander around the streets to find musicians of Brenda’s calibre playing flute, whistle, harp and concertina.
My Irish theme has also extended to the book I have been reading: Anne Griffin – When All is Said.The scenario is an elderly man in a pub just prior to going into a care home. He makes five toasts to five different characters and has a story about them to describe the importance of each individual in his life. The backdrop is the pub itself and this is wonderfully evoked: he also gives times and what he is drinking. In between, is the very best of Irish prose to picture Irish life – mammys, wives and families, weddings and funerals. So, lively! She also uses the ingenious device of an English florin lost/ found/ stolen and the impact it had on those around the man and his life to link the stories. Reflections on love, and where it was not expressed and should have been. As the main character states it, ‘There was a love, but of the Irish kind, reserved and embarrassed by its own humanity.’
Anne Griffin’s is a first novel. She used to work in Waterstones in Dublin and I remember her from there. Just shows that it is possible to ‘make it’ from humble positions. The exegesis of the novel, reading between the lines of the acknowledgements, is also an excellent case of the fermentation and bringing into being of creativity.
This month’s report overlapped with last months; so strictly speaking began with Christmas:
January is then the month of Epiphany – a new beginning – on the 6th. Duly, sunny days and a strengthening of the light around this time. Later in the month, there were a succession of new years: Celtic and Chinese. Chinese New Year – the year of the Pig: https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/pig/
Also, Imbolc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc
Also, known as St Brigid’s Day. In pagan belief, this is a time when the light begins to get stronger.
In celebration of all this light, and since I am a bit thin on the ground with actual events, a Gallery of skies spotted this month:
A couple from the London skyline:
A time of catching up for me after last year’s travels.
A new academic book out on Bourdieu, Language-based Ethnographies and Reflexivity:
I somehow thought that this would be my last book on Bourdieu. But, since then, a couple of other ideas have been bubbling along: firstly, a book about Bourdieu and Creativity; and then another which goes by the title of ‘Bourdieusian Meditations’ – a series of reflections on the work I have done both on him and applications of the ideas to various areas. I also have a kind of ‘final thoughts’ piece up my sleeve. Otherwise, I have been writing biography.
I posted a short piece from my dialogues with Satyananda on Object Perception and Beauty: http://www.michaelgrenfell.co.uk/esoteric/satsang/object-perception-oneness-diversity-and-beauty/
Also, came across a photo from 2000 – an early Guitar Craft course for me in Alfeld, Germany.
Also, began a group (of two!) reading of In Search of the Miraculousby P. D. Ouspensky – one time student of Gurdjieff and teacher of J. G. Bennett. The idea is to read one page a day, that is 15 per half month, and consult on things remarked.
The first Notesreport is here: http://www.michaelgrenfell.co.uk/esoteric/in-search-of-the-miraculous-p-d-ouspensky/
…and will carry on periodically with the actual reading.
Been getting back into film lately. Not wishing to have a ‘Film of the Month’ to go along with Book and CD, but this month I saw an excellent film from the Aboriginal film Director Warwick Thornton Sweet Country. Set in Australia in the early part of the C20, it shows the reality of the outback for farmers, and indeed their somewhat oppressed indigenous farm labourers. A real story with some fantastic photography and acting. However, the ending is sadly inevitable.
Christmas is a time of year for getting back into comfort reading and listening. So, I followed this trend. Therefore, my CD of the month has to be The Beatles White Album:
What can I say about this iconic record? Well, I remember hearing it for the first time in 1968. I was just about adolescent and realising there was more to life than collecting football programmes and autographs. I listened to it outside our local youth club using a small transistor radio. And, there, for the first time, the strains of Back in the USSR, Dear Prudence, Obla Di Obla Da, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps – and all the others – met my ears for the first time. I was mesmerized.
Of course, there has been no end of debate about this latest – ‘remixed’ – version. What can I say? Well, the critics have a point, since this new version is different from our old friend. That being said, it would be a grumpy man or woman who could go without these sparkling new mixes, which bring out all sorts of extra sounds in the recordings. Like the Sgt. Pepper, BOTH versions will be appreciated by Beatles enthusiasts: the 68 version as those sounds that have travelled with us over the years AND the new version for what would be the C21 White Album experience.
As, noted before, Christmas is also a time for ghost stories and who dun’its. This year I chose Richard Adams The Girl in a Swing:
I have read it a few times and I always get drawn into the mystery of the story. It works because on one level it is the story of an rather boring and conventional man who meets with and marries a beautiful German woman. Yet, something is wrong, and it slowly drops little pieces into the narrative, which create an unsettling effect, until the novel builds – like an approaching thunder storm – to its devastating conclusion. The synopsis of this story on Wikipedia is not correct. It is really about a series of philosophical and psychic phenomena: karma, the destructive nature of the sublime, the cost of beauty on the beholder, the power of chance, Lilith, enchantment, the communication between worlds, the dark underside of beauty, the consequences of flying too close to the sun, Kali and the consumption life. In the end, redemption as well. Interestingly, although I have read this book some times before, I never saw the ending as described in the synopsis on Wikipedia – or even Amazon reviews. I never took it as literal – but closer to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.. “Es muss sein”. Haunting still.
All due apologies for late posting of my News Report this month. I have been in South America for five weeks and, as well as losing track of the time – month-wise – I have been busy with one thing and another. Given the amount of material available, I have decided to keep this posting as fairly descriptive – even travelogue – rather than go into detail. Also, given it is already nearing the end of the month, and not much other than Christmas is going to happening from now until the end of the year, I am treating it as a special ‘Double Month Issue’ of News Report.
My first stop in South America was Chile – where I spent a few days literally on the edge of the Pacific – Paradise like. Some great experiences here, and at every level – work and festivities, social and visual.
From here to Mendoza and to take stock for a few days.
Then, on to Buenos Aires:
An exciting city. My Musica en Moviemiento colleagues – Luciano and Marcella – and I here did a music workshop with the group based around Fernando Kabusaki’s music academy – very successful it was too.
This was followed up with a great BA visit thanks to my sponsor Raul Navas and his family. Time to get to know more about its history. Also, to dip into café society there.
Then, a lecture in the splendid surroundings of the Law University::
I also encountered ‘The Blue Circle’ – a BA based group of writers, painters, journalists and others involved in the media and arts in BA. At one point, we were visited by a Bandoneon player who treated us to some traditional melodies. I managed to grab snatches of him and his playing:
I had a few days off and went to Iguazo Falls – an incredible experience. Some 240 waterfalls over several kilometers and opportunities to see them from many directions and angles:
From then, on to Salta and sampling some nightlife in this city I fell in love with last time I was here:
Again, a lecture at the university is splendid surroundings, and with my interpreter Minnie:
Followed by dinner and two treats. Firstly, some of the principal lecturers there turned out also to be poets and musicians. Some fine Argentinian guitar playing and song in the Peruvian style:
We were then visited by an indigenous singer – in fact, she had been singing for the G20 summit in BA the previous week. Extraordinary shamanistic singing accompanied only by a single drum:
Next was the MeM guitar project proper. And, very successful in all respects. A good few days in a centre outside of Salta; and then the performance itself at Samsi – a Yoga and T’ai Chi centre in Salta managed by one of our team, Vijaya:
After the project, we took time to visit Cafayate and La Caldera – both stunning visually:
Time then to return to Mendoza for my own birth day surprise celebrations with Lucho and Lili on the 14thand then flight out back to England – just in time to catch the Winter Solstice.
With all this going on, I did not really have time to have a ‘CD of the Month’. However, this song featured in our discussions at one point: firstly, as a lovely song by Jose Gonzalez; then, how it was used in a stunning advertisement for Sony; and then thirdly adopted by the Swedish group The Knife for their electronica:
During the trip, I also read Christopher Hill’s The Upside Down World, which deals with the history of radical thought during the mid seventeenth century in England. From about 1660, this way of thinking went underground, but obviously re-emerged in the eighteenth century with the likes of William Blake and his mixture of the spiritual and the mundane. It is my tradition. A great read:
Into autumn proper and a busy time with one thing and another. I go down to Cornwall to do a Dowsing course and am greeted with a range of weather. Rough seas at Mousehole thanks to the tail end of an American hurricane. Things settle down then, though, for some nice skies and sunsets:
Whilst down there, I walk a bit and take in some of the ancient sites. Some of these are 3000+ years old and include stone circles with all sorts of astro-alignments:
Also, some rather lovely Holy Wells – each of these come with their own reputation for healing specific ailments. As again their tradition goes back hundreds of years, there must be something in this – people would not have time to mess around. Here, we have the lovely Madron Well and the well at Sancreed, where, literally, you have to go into the ground to reach it:
People now think it was the mineral content, or indeed the high levels of uranium, that gave/ give a boost to the immune system in helping with illnesses.
Sancreed is also home to a branch of the Grenfells and has a lovely church.
Very old wayside stone crosses everywhere down there as well:
Later I visit the splendid Cataluyan city of Girona for interviewing – rather lovely it is too:
Trips to London – especially for the Anti-Brexit march. I am an anti-brexiter with a passion and see leaving the European Union as a catastrophe.
Quite a lot of art happening this month. In Cornwall, I visit the Borlase Smart exhibition at the Penlee Gallery. This turns out to be a real pleasure and eye-opener. I always saw him as a bit of a ‘rear-grade’ to modernist generation I am interested in: Nicholson, Hepworth, Heron, etc. But, it turns out he did sea scapes of almost Monet like devotion:
Then, on to contemporary art at the Newlyn Gallery. A good idea – art expressing the exuberance of youth, but almost nothing there!! Really, this gallery becomes more and more of a disappointment. I have to again remind readers that people like me – cultural critics – have as much fun criticizing art as they do enjoying it.
A quirky exhibition on Michael Jackson at the National Portrait Gallery in London as well. Rather confused, and does not seem to know if it wants to celebrate him or deconstruct him!
A brilliant exhibition on Anni Albers at the Tate Modern:
She was part of the Bauhaus in Germany in the 1920s and 30s and then moved to the US to escape Nazi persecution. This exhibition offers a marvellous range of her work in weaving, tapestry and sketching/ drawing. It is a rare example of a craftsperson who extends their work to the fine arts.
In London, I also see the latest David Hare play. It is based around the story of a NHS doctor who becomes a politician. Therefore, a familiar tract for Hare to examine aspects of contemporary Britain. It is good but, in present times, I really wonder if we are not beyond such liberal anguish exhibited at the National Theatre. Something altogether more visceral and corrosive might more hit the spot – something along the lines of the Théâtre de la Craulté :
Uncertain Times indeed, which happens to be the title of the latest tour by King Crimson. I catch up with them in Bournemouth:
For my CD of the month, I am selecting The Giant who Ate Himselfby Glenn Jones:
Glenn Jones played in the ‘American Primitive’ style of guitar, really founded by John Fahey. Indeed, Glenn even did a CD recording with Fahey called: The Epiphany of Glenn Jones – which says a lot, in its music and disk notes, around what Fahey was about, especially in those later years.
‘American Primitive’ guitar is renowned for it emotional focus and tonal clarity – this is NOT the dreaminess of Windham Hill (George Winston, etc.).
When John Fahey died, I could swear I heard his characteristic gaffaw laughter in my house, such was my relationship with him and his music. So, perhaps, unsurprising that I could swear I heard the same gaffaw in the distant background to some of these tracks. Glenn Jones comes close to honouring this style and writing – a nice recording.
Incidentally, my own interview and recordings with Fahey are available here:
My book of the month is Ghost Wallby Sarah Moss.
Really, it is a novella more than a novel of just 149 pages. It tells the story of a group of archeologists getting back to an ancient way of life by camping out rough in the moors – eating and sleeping in nature. However, this quickly becomes a story of the power of pagan forces, their expression, and how easy it is to slip back into the brutality of the past. It is a kind of mix of the last part of Lord of the Flies, Afore Night Come, and 5 Go on Holiday!! However, it is also an allegory of our contemporary times and a warning to those who would sacrifice future generations on behalf of the past.
September is the month that sort of spans the last of the summer and the beginning of the winter – well, autumn at least.
A sure sign is the days getting shorter – the mornings colder, etc. Also, misty mornings where I am.
It is also the time of the Autumn Equinox where there is equal night and day – light and dark. Sunrise to mark the occasion:
In Wiccan terms, this is Mabob, which is the middle of the three harvest festivals; a time of celebration for the fruits and vegetables of the fields. Celebration and sharing are key principles in pleasing the pagan gods at this time.
Another sure sign, is the end of the Prom seasons. After my summer travels, I manage to get in three more concerts: Mahler 3rdsymphony, a Tango evening, and the Berlin Philharmonic under their new conductor playing Beethoven 7thSymphony. The last of these was magnificent.
Other music was Maya Youssef from Syria, playing the qanun – a seventy-eight string plucked zither. Despite the number of strings, it is only really two octaves as this musical tradition using quarter tones – so, four tones per note. Anyway, a fine concert including both traditional and self compositions taken from her new CD Syrian Dreams. mayayoussef.com
A final ‘summer’ trip to Germany – near Limburg/ Frankfurt. A lovely week with temperatures in the 30s – and some nice wine tasting and food sampling. Also, some visits to castles and abbeys/ churches. I found the area to be very civilized indeed.
Whilst there I also visited a rather fine exhibition of art taken from the early period of the Weimar Republic – so, a kind of magic realism in the light of European art of the period. Close associations with The Bridge, Blue Rider and indeed Bauhaus in terms of influence.
This show was somewhat complemented by another show later at the Tate Britain in London: Aftermath. The theme here was art from England, France and Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. It was a bit of a mish-mash, with an emphasis on depicting the tragedies of war itself. Nevertheless, some other indications of what was developing in the art world across Europe.
Then, a very fine production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre, London. A long play – three and a half hours – but riveting. I remember doing it for my A-level English. The leads were top notch – Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo – and made a mesmerizing pair as they moved towards their final tragedies.
Lots of music going on. But, my favourite in later days is the new CD – after some 26 years – by Nile Rodgers and Chic. Classic Boogie to lift the spirits.
Reading wise, The Town, the first novel by Shaun Prescott, perplexed and intrigued me. Set, again for me, in Australia, it is about a town that is literally disappearing before your eyes. Part Beckett, part Kafka, and part Camus, it is both an elegiac read and somewhat of an allegory for contemporary socio-cultural (eco-political) experience.
This long, glorious summer continued for most of the month, although there were inauspicious thunder storms towards the end, which reminded us that autumn is around the corner!!
In the meantime, the English countryside is at its harvest-like best, with ploughed fields and spacey landscapes.
I spent a week in Somerset and really just hung around on the veranda – cooking and reading – since it was so hot. Again, some nice sunsets over the Severn estuary.
A real Somerset pub as well, selling real Somerset cider – quite rare to find these days.
I went up to London on the 12thfor the unveiling of the new gravestone for William Blake. He is buried in Bunhill Fields in the City, a dissenters’ cemetery, and one closed many years ago. Since 1927, there has been a stone in the cemetery to him and his wife, but not actually on the site he was buried. The site was hit by a bomb in the war and just repositioned for convenience.
So, it has taken some time to track down the actual site, which was finally identified 12 years ago.
It turns out that Blake is buried with seven others, as was the custom in 1827 when he died, and that he was the fourth one down. Anyway, a new stone was commissioned by the Blake Society of St. James and duly cut by the stone cutter Lida Cardozo.
There was much celebration, with singing and poetry – a thousand or so people attended. One piece sung was a new composition by an Australian composer Chris Williams: ‘I give you the end of a golden string, Only wind it into a ball. It will lead you at Heavens gate, Built in Jerusalems wall’. I made an impromptu recording:
Of course, the actual Jerusalem poem from Blake’s prophesy Milton was also sung by the attendees:
I did not catch the first lines, so here are the complete words.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land
Of course, these words of this poem, which is much loved by the British and sung almost as a national anthem against the music of Parry, were written when Blake was desperate – ‘Albion is sick’, he declared. And, still so, it seems….
Then away to Cyprus – a beautiful island:
Lots of nice food and company with my ex-student and her family.
Cyprus is a land of castles and churches.
The latter have some of the finest Byzantine religious art in the world – 11thto 15thCentury. Each of these churches is a world heritage site!
Then, Roman archeology as well with, once again, world famous sites and finds – like the mosaics going back to the 4thcentury BC.
I also spend two nights in a swish hotel:
Lots of fun.
The Proms are still on.
I was lucky enough to catch Daniel Barenboim with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up almost entirely by young Israeli and Palestinian players.
The programme included Tchaikovsky’s D major violin concerto, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and a new contemporary piece – Looking for Palestine – by David Robert Coleman. The soloist in the Tchaikovsky was a young Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili who had a beautiful fluency and tone. So, this month’s CD is her explorations of pieces by Prokofiev, which I bought at the show.
Two books this month, both based around Australia. The first is Peter Carey’s novel set in the 1950s where a couple embark on the Redex Trial – a brutal car race around the edge of Australia. It is full of lively characters with something happening every sentence; behind it all, though, is both the racism incipient in Australia, and the tensions and contradictions its past gives rise to. It ends up summing up the essence of contemporary Australia: ‘What may seem to be the signs of madness might be understood by someone familiar with alchemical literature as an encrypton whose function is to insist that our mother country is a foreign land whose language we have not yet earned the right to speak’.
Somewhat as if to prove the point, the second book is the artist Rod Moss’ extraordinary account of living around and befriending Aboriginals in Alice Springs. It is a book that both romanticises and de-romanticises the aboriginals – their art, language and behavior. It kind of shows what they were, what they have become, and what they might still yet be. It is impossible to idealise their situation, really a direct result of having their land taken over by English colonialists who pretty much affected an ethnic genocide. The English declared it Terra Nullis – belonging to no-one!!! Present day aboriginals fight all the time and get drunk. Domestic quarrels routinely involve physical violence and hospitalization. Most Aboriginals are killed by other Aboriginals, and they exact a harsh ‘Old Testament’ revenge on groups and individuals who offend them. Others get condemned for associating with the wrong sort. If ‘the bone’ is shaken at them, they wither away and die. The women carry stones in their knickers to protect themselves, and the men weapons. Most die before seeing out their 50s. Yet, they know the site of every rock and its significance; they spot hidden animals with razor vision, and can kill the same with unerring precision. Yet, attuned as they are to the land and animals, children still torture the life out of creatures with a cruel fascination. Of course, the ‘Dreaming’ is all and everyone’s place in it. They can communicate across great distance by crackling paper and they announce their arrival by cracking a twig. As a character in the Carey novel asserts, people just don’t get it: these guys do not do linear vision, they see the whole 360 degrees as one!!
Summer weeks and we have been treated to Mediterranean weather. It does happen, and time to enjoy it. So, the season to get out in the sun and enjoy the many musical and cultural activities on offer this time of year.
But, first to France, and Saintes near La Rochelle. Good to reconnect with the French language and to sink into their way of life. Whilst I was there, I visited a couple of chateaux: firstly, for a historical tour and some music and, on another night, a play by Molière – a lot of fun.
Also, a very unusual thing: rock carving in the cliff faces in the country there: Les Lapidiales at Port d’Envaux. The rock is very soft so easily sculpted and, certainly, the pieces are each highly original and spectacular. I mean, some of them must be twenty feet in height and all pertain to quite mystical and legendary narratives. People come from around the world to work there. At the time, there was a well-known artist from India who had won various prizes – quite spectacular.
Some theatre – the two ends of the spectrum. First, a performance at the National Theatre in London of The Lehman Trilogy, which told the story of the rise of this German Jewish family who went to the USA in 1848. They started with nothing and eventually built themselves a banking empire. As such, it was, of course, also the story of the rise – and fall! – of capitalism. All acted out by just three actors who played everyone: men, women, children, young and old.
The other pieces was a production by the local amateur dramatics company of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter – a typical piece of English light comedy/ farce. Perfect for a summer evening.
Lots of music happening. I kicked off my first of five visits to this year’s Proms in London with Mahler’s 8th Symphony – the so-called ‘symphony of a thousand’. Certainly, with two orchestras and three choirs on stage, it was full. A big sound made for such a big hall. One of Mahler’s most positive pieces which celebrates earth creation and redemption – interestingly, it was also the most positively received when it was first performed in Vienna in 1910.
Then to the WOMAD festival of world music, art and dance. I think this was my 30th WOMAD event since 1981.
Over the years I have seen it evolve and develop – sometimes working from a very poor resource base – I remember the stage being on fruit boxes at one festival – to the top-notch media event.
I also used to cover it for music magazines in my journalism days. Indeed, my whole love of global music really was ignited by my first WOMAD gig – at the ICA in London. There were two performances: first, by Aboriginals; secondly, a seven-piece West African Drum group. Ekome! It certainly opened my ears. I had never seen anything like it.
Art too – the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy, London. This year under the heavy influence of Grayson Perry. He certainly gave it a light-hearted and even frivolous air – perhaps just what you want for a summer show. Fun!!
Lots of reading and music listening, but to pick out two of my favourites, for reading, I would choose Annie Ernaux’s The Years – a beautifully written account of her life from 1941 until 2006 in France – eventful years: the war, 60s, 1968, socialism, neoliberalism. She really uses all sorts of literary tricks to convey the sense of time passing and the way her view of the world changes. Sometimes, an event, sometimes an image, sometimes a story or commentary. Yet, the overall sense is one of loss…
Lots of music came my way at WOMAD, but I am going to pick out Dobet Gnahoré’s latest Mziki.
High octane West African sounds of a second – er’ third? – generation musician. The only thing I would say is I wish they would not restrict most of the pieces to under three minutes. Ideal for radio plays but not really in keeping with the style of music which can extend the grooves indefinitely.
Into June, and already it is midsummer. Latterly, some amazing Mediterranean weather turning English grass yellow. Nature is in advance of us and the baby birds have been and gone – the summer solstice is passed. Downhill now to the Winter solstice and when the sun begins its journey back to the earth – or, actually the other way around. So, there is a sense of change and maturity in the air. Nature moves into a fullness:
The schools are soon out – festivals and holidays. Already plans afoot for autumn and even next year.
I travel across to Dublin, Ireland for a few days – quite amazing, sitting outside in the grounds of my ex-college Trinity with the sun setting:
The Liffy and the Halfpenny bridge look a picture:
Then, I am back and immediately into the People’s Vote for Brexit march. I say ‘People’s Vote’ but that seems to be the main tactic at the moment and most of what I heard and saw was more that calling for a vote: more sort of calling for the whole thing to be called off. The march was good-natured. Still, there were six police officers with machines guns across the gates – behind the gates! – as we crossed Downing Street. So, an indication of the state of modern democracy and its sense of vulnerability.
I began learning Spanish.
I figured that with all these trips to South America, I needed to be more proficient than I am in Spanish. Enjoyable and, knowing French, it is interesting to note the similarities between Spanish and French/ English. Many words are the same but then others are completely different. I mean, where does ‘usted’ come from???
Things are hotting up academically as we reach the end of the university year here: students are super active. I also did a conference paper with my student friend Lisa. She has been working on using Bourdieu as a way of generating historical fiction. Pioneering stuff this!!! Anyway, a fun day in Winchester:
A rather good performance of Macbeth at the National Theatre in London. With everything going on in the world, these plays, of power and corruption, take on a new significance. This version cast light and dark, black and red, and managed to be both period and contemporary. The main character was full of doubt, as befitting of the plot in which he had go involved. This meant one had to really concentrate on the words, which are always dense with Shakespeare, but was a welcome change from the rather bombastic style that is often adopted:
Lots of books and sounds pulling me in various directions this month. Of my reading, I particularly liked Haruki Murakami’s ‘Men Without Women’ stories – his first collection for some years. Despite its title, the stories all relate, with curiosity and humour, to facets of contemporary loneliness which, paradoxically arise from human interaction:
Of my listening, this is the time for summer sounds – exotic global music and Prom classics. However, the one CD I really enjoyed was the compilation of Willie Watson’s music. His is a country folk / blues style and, unlike most singers, he is pretty much content to record himself just on his own with instrument and little or no backing. I particularly like his use of claw hammer banjo and his clear Southern American draw of a voice.
My favourite it Dry Bones – a strange prophetic piece:
This made me think of John Fahey’s literal ‘re-visioning’ of the same piece, which kind of shows where he was at in terms of his synthesis of this music within an altogether different ontology: