My Record Collection 12

Saturday 31st March

Art of Noise – My son, Justin loved this group; they had a single in 1984.  It was certainly different, using samples and electronic noises sounding musical in a strange but very ‘poppy’ way.  He bought the album “(Who’s Afraid of) The Art Of Noise” and he played it.  Incessantly.  And in the way that good music always gets under your skin, so I began to like this strange new stuff.   Fifteen years later my daughter Laura bought me another Art of Noise record “The Seduction of Claude Debussey” – a very different record indeed.  The band are actually not a band at all.  They barely exist and have ever-changing (if only slowly) members; the only really constant is singer Anne Dudley, programmer J J Jexcalik and engineer Gary Langden.  Trevor Horn also produced their first two albums on the famous ZZT label.  The history of the band is very strange, with splits and re-unions and long silences – but then they are really an avante-garde collective which make occasional music rather than a band in the conventional sense.

My daughter’s present (The Debussey album) made such an impact that I went back and bought ‘Who’s Afraid’ which I loved all over again, despite not hearing it for maybe over twenty years.  Such is the power of music.

But the real gem is The Seduction of Claude Debussey, the soundtrack for a film that has not been made.  Narrated by John Hurt and featuring Lol Crème on guitars this is a triumph.  Hauntingly beautiful and revolutionary in style, I am not sure if it is classical or very modern music – which is maybe the whole point.  Using Debussey’s music as a starting point but harnessing modern beats and even rap it is startlingly wonderful.  It is really one long piece with recurring themes, maybe ‘Dreaming in Colour’ is the best track.

It is the sort of record you simply do not tire of.  And I have always loved when Classical and Modern music work together from Barclay James Harvest (see B) to Malcolm McClaren (see M).

I also have one of apparently many varied compilations Influence, which features many alternate takes and remixes.  Of course it features Kiss with Tom Jones and a few from Claude Debussey, but much of the record is repetitive I find.

The Year That Summer Never Arrived

Wednesday 28th March

Since the dawn of time Man (and Woman presumably) has worshipped the Sun.  It was vital for warmth, for the crops, for their very survival.  And even now, we worship the sun; flocking to lay under its healing rays at every opportunity.  And when we have a long dreary wet winter, such as the one we seem to be stuck in, we begin to wonder not when, but if, Summer will ever come.  It is officially Spring, but it feels like Winter is forever with us.  Cold biting rain and wind, so unusual for the Dordogne, is our constant companion.  And yet here and there daffodils are struggling to keep their heads up in the rain; our splendid magnolia tree next to the Café de Paris did bloom, but it was short-lived and the petals were blown away or they turned brown far too quickly; the few cherry blossoms look quite sad in the rain.

And yet the earth is still turning, I suppose we would have felt the jolt and fallen over, if it wasn’t.  The clockwork mechanism of the heavens is still clunking away, and Summer must come.  It just may be one we struggle to recognise.  Let us hope not.  The older we get the more we limp through the Winters and long for a little touch of the Sun – maybe we know there may be only a few left.

When Art Is Offensive

Tuesday 27th March

Jeremy Corbyn has apologised about some Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.  This was not about Ken Livingstone, whose comments about Hitler’s deportation of some Jews to (what was then) Palestine being supportive of Zionism,  caused such pain and anguish a couple of years ago (and which he refuses to retract).  This is about a mural, depicting several rich bankers playing monopoly on a table made of human body parts.  It is claimed by many that the rich people depicted are actually caricatures of Jewish people (they are all men, of course).

I have seen a poor reproduction of the mural and there is possibly some truth in the allegation.  However, the artist, known as Mear One, claims he had no such intention, and that he is not responsible for people’s interpretation – which he says completely misses the point; that it is international financiers and Capitalists who are enslaving the poor for their own greed.

So, why has this all escalated into such a furore?  When is Art, which some people may take offence to, to be removed from public view?  We can go back to Marcel Duchamp who exhibited a urinal in an Art Gallery in 1917.  I am sure that many were offended by that, but it was not removed.  Recently a famous painting by Waterhouse was removed from public view, showing ‘Hylas and the nymphs’, because the ‘nymphs in question appear to be depictions of very young, almost certainly teenage, girls with bare breasts (they are all of the same model actually).  At the time, of course girls as young as 14 could be married to much older men.  And it is an incredibly beautiful painting, possibly because of the partial nudity; and has been shown for decades without seeming to cause any offence.

And central to this debate is the nature of Offence.  Offence used to be that which was sent or given, but more and more recently it is considered ‘offensive’ if anyone is ‘offended by’; in other words it is completely subjective.  And where does Art stand in this?  Art has often been deliberately Provocative, and even intended to upset people – Banksy is a popular street Artist, but many of his works are Political and may cause offence in some quarters.  I am particularly offended by the statue of Margaret Thatcher in Parliament, but so what !!!

Robert Mapplethorpe, a brilliant photographer has presented us with many startling images featuring naked men, causing controversy and probably offence.  But it was Art.  If you are offended, then don’t look at it.  And who should be the censors of Art? Should we simply allow various groups to dictate what is acceptable because they feel offended?  Or because they feel that certain Art, created in a different time altogether, is inappropriate by today’s standards.

Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs Manchester Art Gallery 1896.15.jpg


My Record Collection 11

Monday 26th March

Joan Armatrading 7  Next up was What’s Inside, and apart from Everyday Boy and Merchant of Love, a less successful record; the songs seem to have less memorable melodies and don’t really stick in the brain.  She was taking three or four years between records now and touring far less.  It must be incredibly difficult to keep enthusiastically writing new songs when this is your fourteenth album.

Then there was an eight year gap….whenever this happens to an Artist we begin to wonder if they have stopped altogether.  But Joan was just resting up; years of being on the road, writing and recording and just all that singing takes its toll.  In 2003 she released Lover’s Speak, a quieter record, this one.  Best songs ‘What’s Inside’ and ‘Tender Trap.’  I get the feeling that Joan is now making music just for herself, no longer either for the record company, or the fans – who mostly, just want the old hits, or songs very similar to them.  But let’s give her a break, she has been making records for over thirty years, she no longer needs to prove anything, whatever she does will not be considered as good as her early records – or sell as well.  Why not make the music she wants?

And just when you thought someone was almost past their peak, and weren’t really expecting anything remarkable – Joan surprised us all.  In 2007 she released her 16th album Into the Blues – and, it is brilliant.  A serious blues collection, with Joan playing everything except drums and singing as well as ever.  But it is the quality of those songs that is so good. Almost every song is good, and many are among her best.  The whole record just rolls along – and it is the longest of her career so far.  She wraps it up with ‘Something’s Gotta Blow’; at 8 minutes it is her longest ever track too.  Here she duets with herself, but in a sort of delayed double tracking, so two Joans for the price of one.  The song builds and crashes and starts again.  It is totally different from anything she has ever written before.  Just brilliant. Three years later came another album This Charming Life, which was very rock-based. I am not so fond of this record, it seems a bit formless, mind you – one poor album in almost twenty isn’t bad going.   She released a Jazz-influenced record Starlight in 2012, which I haven’t got yet….

And a new album will come out next month….

So, a few weeks immersed in Joan…sad to part with her, but there are many more wonderful artists in the canon.  But oh Joan, what a sensual singer, I can only imagine what a wonderful lover you must be….xxx

Lovers Speak


The Master Song

Sunday 25th March

 I have joined a Leonard Cohen appreciation group on Facebook called “Diamonds in the Mind”.  They were discussing The Master Song from his first album.  It is a brilliant song, of course.  But several people were trying to analyse it, to discover what the song meant, was it autobiographical, etc.  One of my replies is as follows, and I think it sums up just what happens when we listen to Poetry.

“Maybe. I just prefer to lose myself in the beauty of the words. my imagination flies, sometimes I am the Master and sometimes the prisoner, maybe even the woman….the secret of poetry is to trigger emotions, where a common chord is struck and you realise that you are not alone, that others feel your pain or your joy, that others have been before and others will follow. Each time you return to the song it calls up the same emotions, it builds on itself, that is its uniqueness, the more you hear the words the more they seem perfectly right. I can remember at school trying to analyse Poetry, and destroying it in the process. I now write poetry, and its creation is just as much a mystery for the writer as for the reader. There is very little conscious thought involved, you just surrender yourself to the mood and the words come. I am sure there is an awful lot of revision in Leonard’s words, as in mine. But the revision involves re-reading time and time again, changing a word here, a metre there, a rhythm amended occasionally. But the essence of the words remains the same. Poetry may well have been the earliest human artistic endeavour, possibly spoken over fires late at night….just as most of us now listen to Leonard or Joni or Dylan these days.


The Comfort of Strangers

Saturday 24th March

I have enjoyed every one of Ian McEwan’s books.  They are all quite different but equally amazing.  ‘The Cement Garden’, ‘The Innocents’ ‘Atonement’ ‘On Chesil Beach’ ‘Saturday’ ‘The Child In Time’ ‘Enduring Love’ ‘The Children’s Act’ ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Nutshell’ are ones I remember fondly, though there must be others.  But looking back I noticed a couple I had missed.

The Comfort of Strangers was one and I have just read it on Kindle.  Until the denouement it is really a book where nothing, or very little happens.  But this nothingness is described in such a way that you are riveted.  Ordinary scenes are described in great detail, much of which seems at first superfluous, but I am sure that every word has been pondered over.  It is all there for a purpose, and the purpose is both to lull you and to make you aware that this calm will soon be disturbed.  There is a barely perceptible element of threat hovering over the whole book.  So much is unexplained – we will never know why Mary and her husband split up, or why she and Colin are on holiday for a whole month in one place, or how they met, or why they are not living together.  It is as if the whole story, characters – the City (Venice I presume, {and incidentally the whole book has echoes of Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice}) have existed forever, timelessly in some sort of suspended animation, until like the Greek Gods, the author has pushed them, nudged them over the edge.  I read the book very quickly, much of it as I was waiting for Julia to come back from her surgery.  Maybe my febrile mood helped me read the book quickly.  And the ending comes as no surprise, from very early on you know that this holiday will not end well.

A brilliant book; indeed yet one more brilliant book from this author.

Burnt Sienna

Friday 23rd March

“Burnt Sienna”, he muttered “Where can I get some burnt sienna?”  He rummaged through his store of pigments but there was no sienna – raw or burnt, to be found at all.  “Damn” he swore, “It is the very colour I need for the cloak, and a touch in the hair would bring it alive.  Madame has such very dull brown hair, going grey over her ears, truth to tell. But she uses henna, and cleverly too, just giving a warm lift to her very dull face.  Too much and she would look foolish.  Especially at her age.”  He had almost finished the portrait.  “It wasn’t so bad”, he thought, walking away from the canvas and squinting, covering one eye and then the other. “Maybe a touch on the serious side, and the skin tone is much paler then her real colouring.”  He had ignored those tiny capillaries beginning to break out at the edges of her nose, which he had made just a touch more aquiline.  And as for wrinkles and crow’s feet – he wasn’t foolish enough to present her as she really was.  “Nobody wants that; why you might as well give them a mirror.  No, a good portrait shows you as you would like to be seen, as you should be seen.  It isn’t really dishonesty, it is simply a different way of seeing.”

And one must never forget, Madame is an Aristocrat, after all.  Even if rumour has it that she was really a miller’s daughter who had married well.  Her husband, Monsieur Le Fevre, was the third son of a Marquis.  But only a third son.  Not even a first or a second, so he was destined for poverty – or what he, as a member of the Bourgeoisie, considered as poverty. He had an honorary position in the Cavalry but could barely afford a horse, let alone the equipage to go with it.  He lived in a large house in the smartest Arrondissement, but it was only rented.  He owed his tailor for the very clothes on his back.  He lived, like most of the Parisienne gentry, constantly in debt, signing promissory notes like confetti.  His father was rich and had a large estate South of Paris near Orleans.  He would inherit something, he supposed, as did his creditors.  But for now, he spent far too much time and energy on being obsequious towards those he presumed to be wealthier than himself.

The latest Paris fashion was to have your wife painted in a Roman Toga with a leopard or some exotic animal sitting at her feet, and so, Monsieur had commissioned Pierre Dalgarde, an artisan artist, (cheap, but proficient) to paint her.  Pierre only had the final coat to the cloak and her hair and the wretched thing would be done.  It had taken him three weeks, it was almost finished.  And now, of all things he had run out of burnt sienna.

He had promised Monsieur he could view the painting tomorrow, and it was already late.  It was getting dark too.  Where on earth would he find some sienna, raw or burnt, at this time of night?  The few pigment suppliers would be closed by now.  He had ochre and a little cochineal; but he knew that would only give him a hideous orange.  He would have to try one of his fellow artists.  He was wary of venturing out into the streets so late, there were rumours flying of unrest, especially in the poorer districts; and Pierre lived on the edge of Saint Antoine, one of the very poorest.  He had been closeted in his studio for almost three weeks, his landlady bringing him meals and wine daily.  She had told him of the riots; but he had barely heard her, intent as he was on finishing the portrait.

He turned a corner and was horrified to see the famous Revellion wallpaper factory ablaze.  A large crowd had gathered and were shouting and cheering as the timbers fell into the conflagration and huge flames leapt ever higher, seeming to dance over the rooftops.  The mob looked ugly and dangerous, and coward that he was, Pierre skulked back to his studio.

Panicking, he grabbed a handful of ochre, some oil and adding just a dash of cochineal he quickly painted the robe.  It looked far too bright and distracted the eye from her face, but it couldn’t be helped; it would simply have to do.  Tired, he ground up some coffee beans and heating them in a small copper saucepan over his single candle, dosed them some brandy and tumbled into bed.

As the next morning broke he was dreading looking again at the portrait.  He saw at once that his worst fears were realised.  The ochre had dried an even more ugly shade of dark yellow.   “Just like Moutarde de Dijon.” He sighed.  This would never do.  Suddenly he had an idea.  He ran downstairs and into the cellar.  There among the broken furniture and dusty barrels he scraped up some dry earth from the floor.  Good old Parisienne dirt, a dark enough brown surely.  Then his eyes saw the rusty hoop of an old wine barrel.  Rust, just the thing.  He added some scrapings to the dusty soil, milling it smooth with his hands.

Upstairs he tentatively touched the ochre.  Yes, it was almost dry but there was a little movement still.  He carefully dabbed the rusty dirt onto the ochre, gently feathering the brush with the most delicate of whispy strokes, careful not to disturb the still wet paint underneath.  It was working. He would have to leave the hair, that would be too difficult.  “Well, her bloody hair was mousy anyway.”

He relaxed, as he finished the last gentle strokes.  “At least the leopard looked alive, his landlady’s cat had sat patiently for him, even if Madame had fidgeted constantly”. He would show it to M. le Fevre later that day.

He waited anxiously for Monsieur to arrive.  He listened for the bells, two, three and then four.  No Monsieur.  At six his landlady brought his supper.  “What is this?” he demanded. “No meat, and these potatoes are miserably small.  And what is this withered leaf pretending to be cabbage? You can’t expect me to eat this.”

“Beggars cannot be choosers, mon ami.  You are three months behind with your rent again.  Besides, there is no meat to be had in all of Sainte Antoine.  Have you not heard, monsieur le Peintre?  They are calling it ‘La Revolution’.  The mob are taking over Paris.  Down with the Aristocrats, down with the Bourgeoisie.  Ha, and about time too, the way they have robbed this country for years.  People can only suffer so much and now they are taking their revenge.  They say the king is hiding in Versailles, and his troops are refusing to obey orders to shoot the rioters.”

“Oh, I expect it will come to nothing.” Pierre sighed,  “These things rarely do.  In a few days order will be restored.  The ringleaders will be beheaded, and their greasy skulls displayed on spikes outside the Hotel de Ville.  It always ends the same.  Mark my words.”

“Ah no.  It is different this time, mon ami.  They are storming the Bastille this very evening and releasing the prisoners.  You wait and see.  Honest French men will no longer be treated like dirt by the Aristocrats.  Things will be different from now on.”

“Well I sincerely hope you are wrong, my dear woman.” He smiled at her.  “If the Aristocracy falls, how will I get any commissions?  How will you then get any rent at all, three months late or not?  But far more importantly, where can I get some burnt sienna?  Tell me, is it safe to go out now?  I really must have some of that pigment, the ochre is beginning to seep through again, even as I look at it.  Monsieur Le Fevre will be furious with me.  If I am not lucky he will have my head on a spike.  You don’t seem to realise how important this is.  My career will be ruined if I don’t get some burnt sienna soon.”

“Good luck with that mon ami.  All the shops are closed – or looted. I would stay indoors if I were you.”  At his door she turned and laughingly said  “Oh, and wear your dirtiest old clothes if you do go out.  It would be a shame for you to be mistaken for one of the rich, and you the poorest painter in all of Sainte Antoine.”

After she left, Pierre looked again at the portrait.  He was still unhappy with it, but then he was always unhappy with his work.  All that talent and still a jobbing portraitist.  But where was M. Le Fevre?  “He said he would be here today to pay me.  I hope he gives me some real money today, not another of those notes.  The moneylenders took one fifth last time.  Ha, maybe this, what are they calling it, “La Revolution” will rid us of those leeches.  But it will come to nothing.  Of that I am sure.  The poor are too stupid to be trusted with anything.  No, the natural order will be restored after a few days.  As soon as food begins to run out they will come crawling back begging for their Lords and Ladies to return.”

Suddenly, there was a banging and clattering and his garret was kicked open.  “I told you” a man with a knitted red cap and wild eyes shouted.  “The Lady was here a few days ago.”  He looked around at Pierre sitting aghast.  He grabbed the full-length portrait off the easel.  “Just look at the smug look on her Bourgeoise face.”  He raised his fist and smashed it through the canvas.  “This is what we think of you, Madame.  Now smile if you still can.”

Pierre leapt up, “You’ve ruined the painting.  Three weeks that took me.  I will never get paid now.  Mon Dieu, what shall I do now?”

“Ha.  Grab him.”  The ringleader shouted.  “We must make an example of those who would flatter the Aristocrats with this merde!!!”

Three men grabbed him, but his landlady stood in front of the painter. “Leave him be.  He is poor, just like us.  Would you grab their servants?  We have no choice.  To survive we must all do what we must.  You have ruined his portrait, that is punishment enough surely.”

And dashing his paints and pigments to the floor they left.  Pierre, crying at his ruined work picked them up, and his hand closed in on a small hessian bag.  “Burnt sienna.  How could I have missed it?”

It Seems Improbable

Thursday 22nd March

It seems improbable that a bright new future awaits us after Brexit.   It seems improbable that the EU will give us frictionless trade and no tariffs, when that is what we have just rejected.  It seems improbable that Corporations making cars and other goods who have factories all over Europe will continue doing so without the simplicity of being able to ship components from one country to another with no checks.  It seems improbable that Companies planning investments years ahead will continue to invest in a country about to leave its largest trading partners.  It seems improbable that a deal can be reached in only seven months when it has taken almost a year to not even agree the legal basis of a deal, even when that was agreed and signed up to three months ago.  It seems improbable that the border with Northern Ireland can remain open when we are no longer a part of the Single Currency.  It seems improbable that when the deal (whatever that looks like) comes to the Commons for ratification it will be agreed upon.  It seems improbable that Theresa may can hang on for another year with her party so split over Europe.  It seems improbable that the Conservatives will ever be trusted again.  It seems improbable that they will ever properly fund the NHS and schools and local councils.  It seems improbable that we are actually living through this daily nonsense, when everyone knows it is unsustainable.

But probability has nothing to do with it.  It seemed improbable that the public would ever vote for Brexit.  It seemed improbable that Trump would ever become President.  It seemed improbable – but probability had nothing to do with it.

It is impossible to predict what will happen next week let alone next year or at the next election.  It seems improbable that everything will work out fine and the Government will be re-elected by a thankful country.  But probability has nothing to do with it.

The only probability is that I will still be writing about how improbable everything is for a while yet…

My Record Collection 10

Wednesday 21st March

Joan Armatrading 5   Her next was Secret Secrets, another strong record, but a few too many shouty songs for me, ‘Talking to the Wall’ and ‘Love by You’ are good slower numbers.

This was the last album on which Joan used a producer, all her subsequent records she produced in her own studio, where she had total control.  And Total Control is possibly Joan’s greatest attribute.  She is almost unique in not being manipulated by the record industry.  Rare for a woman, rarer still for a black woman – but Joan had total control, she wrote all the songs, arranged them herself, chose the musicians, and released exactly what she wanted to.  And all the better for that too.  Sleight of Hand followed in 1986, and despite a clutch of good songs she is still captured by the Eighties production, swathes of synths drown some of her best tunes.  Still, when she slows it down she can still crack out a great ballad like ‘Jesse’ and ‘Don Juan’ along with great pop songs like ‘You Can Do Magic’.

Then she seemed to change again and go back to basics with The Shouting Stage.  She took much longer in the studio, and the songs seem better for it.  Less shouty, a bit more mid-tempo.  And two stand-out tracks ‘Living For You’ and ‘The Shouting Stage’ are simply sublime.  Hearts and Flowers followed, a softer album; Joan’s voice seems mellower, gentler – as do the songs.  Best are the title song and ‘Promised Land’ and ‘More Than One Kind of Love’ – maybe a hint at her sexuality.  Square The Circle came next, another lovely record; Joan was now well-established and had no need to follow trends or chase chart position.  I really like the record, it feels more relaxed; as if she has found the sound she has been looking for so long. This seems a more late-night record too, rather than most of her Eighties albums, which always had a couple of rockers.  Joan also used backing singers on this record, which tends to add a touch more roundness to the sound.  Some good songs; True Love, Wrapped Around Her – and her first real Political song – If Women Rules The World.

Julia Skripol is the Key

Tuesday 20th March

We are not being told very much.  All we have been told is that the nerve agent was Russian, called Novichok, and the poisoning was either ordered or approved by Putin himself.  Now, Novichok is a generic term for a new type of nerve agent supposedly developed by a Soviet unit in the Eighties.  The intelligence for this was a whistle-blower, but NO sample has ever been obtained by the West.  It is therefore not possible for Porton Down or the OPCW or anyone else to absolutely identify Novichok.  It is most probable that the agent has been tested and does not conform to any other known agent – therefore it must be Novichok, and it must be Russian.

Now, the very fact that one of the victims was a Russian who spied for Britain, was convicted of treason in Russia, and then released to Britain as part of a SpySwap a few years ago – points to a possible and even probable Russian link.  But there is no evidence that it was sanctioned by the Russian state or indeed ordered by Putin.  But it has been a handy diversion for the Government from Brexit and all it’s other problems.

Not that I am suggesting that there has been any duplicity.  And it is quite possible, though far from proven, that the Government is right.

But we are not being told everything.  In fact nothing.  No photo’s of Skripol and his daughter in hospital, no named suspect, no evidence of how the nerve agent was administered.

Now, things begin to get murky.  The Sun on Sunday (hardly the first investigative Journalists one would seek, but still they may have contacts with the Police) reported that Julia Skripol (who we know arrived from Russia two days before the poisoning) had a boyfriend who was a Secret service agent (a spy) and that she had worked for a while in the Russian Embassy in Washington.  And yet mysteriously this news has simply disappeared.  No other Media outlet has reported it.  I wonder why.

But today another piece of the puzzle emerged; Police are looking at the taxi which brought Julia from Heathrow to Salisbury.  Why would they do that unless they thought (or knew) that she had brought the poison into the country?  And if she was the carrier, why?  Was she the person who released it?  Was she trying to kill her father?  Was it a suicide attempt by one or both of them?  Was she indeed a Russian Spy, or was this some personal vendetta?

Whatever the answer I am pretty certain that the Police, or MI5 know – they just aren’t telling us.  Maybe they will never tell us.  Maybe it is more convenient to simply let everyone think it was Putin.  Maybe Theresa May hasn’t been told either.  But I am also pretty certain that the truth will come out sometime; it is far harder for the authorities to hide now that we have the internet, and people can post anonymously – almost with impunity.

So, if you have read this but suddenly find it isn’t available anymore, you will know why….hahaha