Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

A Circle of Sound – 150 years of the Royal Albert Hall

An appropriate colour of light for its address on Kensington Gore

The day before yesterday (19 July) marked the first full-capacity concert at the 5,000 seat Albert Hall since March 2020. It was a piece called ‘A Circle of Sound’ composed by David Arnold, known for his soundtracks for Bond films, Hollywood movies (Independence Day) and TV dramas (Sherlock), to mark the 150th anniversary of its opening on 29th March 1871. In 10 parts, it addressed the history of this very special London venue through various lenses – pop music, the Proms, sport, remembrance, activism, etc.

It was set up as the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, a direct result of Prince Albert’s brainchild, the Great Exhibition of 1851. After the success of the Exhibition, he proposed a permanent presence for Science, Art and Learning near the Hyde Park site. He didn’t live to see its fruition, but it ended up bearing his name when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone in 1867 in memory of her beloved husband who died six years before the Hall finally opened. (The foundation stone sits under Block K of the stalls.)

David Arnold and special guests – Mel C (white suit), Jemma Redgrave (white dress), Helen Pankhurst (between them in Suffragette scarf)

It’s an important spot for London architecture because you see juxtaposed at close quarters the two main influences on modern London – the Classical as represented by the coliseum-like circle of the Albert Hall and the Gothic as represented by the pointy, churchy Albert Memorial, just the other side of Kensington Gore. 

Circle of Victorian red brick

Highlights of the celebratory evening included:

  • Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of Sylvia, great-granddaughter of Emmeline, introducing a speech of her great-grandmother given in the USA (Hartford, Connecticut) known as the Freedom or Death speech, considered one of the great speeches of the 20th century.

we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death

  • Jemma Redgrave, daughter of Corin, son of Michael, in that English acting dynasty, performed the speech with great energy, bringing a tear to the eye – the achievement of the British Suffragette movement is one of the most admirable and proudest moments for this country
  • Mel C of The Spice Girls introducing the section on all the pop music that has been played at the Hall, featuring a young band invited from the Rhythm Studio in W10 including the drumming talent of Finlay Gee (nephew), who provided the only fist pump of the evening he had gotten such a kick from playing this huge venue at the age of just 18
  • Brian Cox helping us all feel like an insignificant speck in the universe as he framed the perspective of the Science section, Science being as much a part of the original conception of the Hall as Arts
  • Charles Dance receiving a warm welcome as a national treasure with an edge as he introduced the Remembrance section – he stole the show thanks to that edge when we made Was It Something I Said? at Channel 4 
  • Michael Sheen performing in Welsh barnstorming style as he introduced the final movement looking forward to the next 150 years

With regard to pop music played in the Hall the landmark shows include:

The Great Pop Prom // 15 September 1963 (the week I was born)
The first time The Beatles and The Stones performed on the same bill. Paul McCartney remembered the night like this: “Up there with the Rolling Stones we were thinking: ‘This is it – London. The Albert Hall.’ We felt like gods.”

Bob Dylan // 26 & 27 May 1966
The tour when he “went electric”. Ironically the concert famously known as the Albert Hall concert actually took place a few days earlier in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester – that’s the one where an outraged audience member accused Dylan of being “Judas!”

Bloke in audience: “Judas!”

Dylan: “I don’t believe you!”(reference to the title of a song he had played earlier in the gig)

Dylan: “You’re a liar!”

Dylan (to band): “Play fucking loud!”

Jimi Hendrix // 18 & 24 February 1969
The Jimi Hendrix Experience first played the Hall in 1967. They returned two years later to play some blues rather than their hits. The fans were appeased with an encore featuring ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Wild Thing’ and Hendrix on the floor playing the guitar with his teeth.

Pink Floyd // 26 June 1969
Pink Floyd excelled themselves by getting a lifetime ban from the Hall on their first gig there. During the song ‘Work’ Rick Wright constructed a wooden table on stage wielding hammer and saw. After that a gorilla burst into the auditorium, that is a man in a gorilla costume. As a finale, two cannons were fired and a pink smoke bomb exploded. The Hall’s management swiftly banned the Floyd from performing there ever again. Then in 1972 they decided to ban all “pop and rock concerts” because of the “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.” But Rock triumphed. The Floyd were back playing there just a year later, and the blanket ban was similarly short-lived, although The Who’s 1972 show fell victim to it. 

David Gilmour & David Bowie // 29 May 2006
When Bowie was invited onto the stage by Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour in 2006, it turned out to be both Bowie’s first & only appearance at the Hall, and his last ever UK public performance. The two  duetted on the songs ‘Arnold Layne’ (a nod to the influence on both of Syd Barrett) and ‘Comfortably Numb’. 

 

One of the many magical moments at the Albert Hall – Gilmour & Bowie

St George’s Day

There’s been a lot of discussion in the UK media about English identity yesterday and today so here’s a take on Englishness worth celebrating…

Shakey’s birthday is traditionally also celebrated on 23rd April
First and foremost a Londoner (which is another story)
The DMs are the Anglo-Saxon roots, the dress the Norman layer
Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) by David Hockney, where Yorkshire meets London
A unique sense of humour
Tolerance
Eccentricity & individuality: a South Londoner who believes in more love, less ego (Greentea Peng)
Openness to other cultures
Twiggy by David Bailey
Pauline Boty & Christine Keeler
St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

The Road to DeMaskUs – life after Lockdown

An Anderson shelter in Poplar, East London, 1941 [Photograph: IWM]

Coming out of this third Lockdown following along the government’s ‘roadmap’, it is like emerging from a bomb shelter blinking into the light. As your eyes adjust to the brightness, you look around to see what’s still standing. So with the relief, liberty and happiness, it is natural to feel some uncertainty and anxiety too.

Winter Solstice at Newgrange

In this era of video streaming here is a particularly brilliant (literally) application – sharing the Winter Solstice at the Newgrange passage tomb in Co. Meath, Ireland. I first went there in the early 80s when there was no visitor centre or formality and the nearby tombs of Knowth and Dowth were largely overgrown. Now it is (very deservedly) a World Heritage Site and this morning’s live broadcast via YouTube was brought to the world by Brú na Bóinne / World Heritage Ireland and Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí / the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW). Starting as the sun rose over the horizon behind the loop of the River Boyne we were enabled through live streaming to witness the entrance of the sunlight into the passage of this neolithic tomb and watch its advance down the passage to illuminate this house of spirits and mark the rebirth of the sun after the darkest days of winter. Particularly resonant of course this year.

The live commentary by two authoritative and warm Irish experts explained that this area is an”inland island” being separated by a huge loop of the river. The whole area is rich in neolithic remains and traces. They showed some aerial photos from 2018, enabled by that other important new camera technology, drones, revealing crop marks and patterns in the countryside in drought showing the presence of huge perfectly circular constructions (a henge) on a grand scale, unknown until that driest of summers.

The ability to share in real time sights which are not otherwise accessible to the world at large is one of the fundamental benefits of streaming video.

08:48 Just before the sun emerged over the horizon
08:55 view from the ‘light box’, the aperture into the tomb
09:00 the line of fog marks the River Boyne
09:03 the light in the tomb from above on the sandy passage floor
09:05 the sunlight enters the passage into the tomb
09:06 the passage starts to be illuminated
09:07
09:12
09:16
09:16
09:17
09:20
09:31

Wishing Simple Pleasures Part 4 readers and the world at large light after the darkness and Simple Pleasures galore in 2021.

Coincidences No.s 291 & 292 – A London Boy

No. 291 All Things Must Pass

I go for my last run (of hundreds) in St Pancras & Islington cemetery. It’s only open on weekends at the moment due to Lockdown/Covid so this Sunday is my last opportunity. I am due to move house on Tuesday. I know every inch of this huge cemetery-cum-nature reserve and have deeply enjoyed the hours I have spent here running, walking and meditating. I jog listening to a BBC Radio programme (‘Archive on 4‘) about George Harrison’s first solo record ‘All Things Must Pass’. 

As I reach the gate coming out for the last time the narrator, Nitin Sawhney, reminds us that the record first came out in the UK 50 years ago on 30th November. This is 29th November. On the 30th I am packing up the house and home office of ArkAngel to move out. 

As I reach the side gate of the house at the end of the run George says (referring to the long recording process):

“…and it’s finished.”

No. 292 A New Dawn

I just received the following message (30 seconds ago via Facebook):

“Listening to it myself. Dedicating Nina to you. Xx”

It refers to this playlist, ‘Weekend at Home‘, created by my Best Man, and the track ‘Feeling Good’ (by Nina Simone). I’ve been listening to the playlist all morning on the first Saturday in my new home, where I’m sitting at my new ArkAngel desk.

About two minutes before the message arrived I got an email from a colleague/friend at Little Dot Studios. It was about somebody pirating ‘Surf Girls Jamaica‘ and at the end he asked

“How’s the new place?”

Exactly as I read the email these were the very words I heard from Spotify…

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

And I’m feelin’ good

‘Feeling Good’ was actually written by two Londoners – Anthony Newley (Hackney) & Leslie Bricusse (Pinner) for a musical, ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint’ . As I finish off this post, on the ‘Weekend at Home’ playlist I’ve reached the track ‘The London Boys‘ by David Bowie. It was a 1966 B-side on Deram records which put out his early work. He sings it in a very Anthony Newley London style as Newley was a huge influence on Bowie when he was starting out. My move takes me back to my native postcode: London NW7

It’s a new dawn

Coincidence No. 101

I wake up in a pleasant hotel in Bristol and decide to treat myself to some pleasant TV (‘Strike: Lethal White’ BBC1), finishing off an episode from last night. There’s these lines in the bit I got to:

No, wait, I’ve seen Blanc de Blanc before. Matt’s Instagram. Where we went on our anniversary. It’s only an hour from Chisel House.

The character (Robyn) is referring to a hotel where she went with her husband. Blanc de Blanc was the room name.

I am writing this in Casa Lapostolle, a room in the Hotel du Vin. It is named after a wine as is their way. The bottle is sitting in a cabinet just outside the door.

Watching Hotel du Vin in Hotel du Vin

Things That Are No More #2: I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas – and forever

This is Michael Dickinson (filmed by me in April 2018) not far from Spike Milligan’s stomping ground. Sadly he passed away recently. He was a much-loved presence in East Finchley as well as other parts of London such as Camden Town. He came to East Finchley to visit the Phoenix Cinema (which BTW is about to re-open) among other things.

Michael was an actor, writer and campaigner. He suffered from a psychological condition called ‘retropulsion’, a compulsion to walk backwards, which is a symptom of Parkinsonism. He died from Peritonitis on 2nd July in his bedsit in Highgate, aged 70.

Michael was born in Yorkshire. He lived all around Camden Town in the 70s and 80s, then mov­ed to Istanbul. After 30 years living in Turkey and working as a teacher, he was deported back to Britain in 2013 after being arrested for exhib­iting a collage portraying President Erdogan as a dog collecting a rosette from George Bush.

He studied at Manchester School of Theatre in 1969. Michael acted and wrote for the Pentameters Theatre (which BTW urgently needs support to survive and has a crowdfunder on the go to that end) above the Three Horseshoes pub on Heath Street, Hampstead where he was considered a talented actor. His final play was about Keats whose manor included Heath Street. Léonie Scott-Matthews, who has run Pentameters for over five decades, witnessed when the condition kicked in: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here. He got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

In a 2017 interview in the Camden New Journal Michael said: “I am not acting. If it wasn’t for the retropulsion, I would much prefer to be walking forwards.”

For some time he lived in a tent on Hampstead Heath. Other times his home was a cardboard box behind Sainsbury in Camden Town and various squats including Hampstead Police Station (also on Heath Street). Eventually he got more regular accommodation. 

The Erdogan episode took on international proportions. Michael arrived at the appeal hearing bearing a similar collage with Erdogan’s face on a dog’s body. During the shenanigans Charles Thomson, co-founder of the pro-figurative Stuckist group of artists,  wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to encourage the “strongest condem­nation of this prosecution”.  Thomson said: “The story got international media attention because they were trying to get into the EU at that time. I think without it he would have got a stiff jail sentence.” He described Michael’s art as “exquisitely wrought political collages”. Relating it to the movement he founded he said: “Stuckism is for individuals who feel marginalised and not prepared to kow-tow to the establishment. They are not afraid to be them­selves and often they pay the price for that.”

Besides plays, as a writer michael wrote dozens of articles, mainly published on Counter­punch. His output included various essays about his life.

Michael’s life is a perfect example of the richness of stories that can underlie people in our communities we are perhaps dismissive of or put in a judgmental box. Another such example from my own childhood community was Dr Stephan Hassan, known as the Edgware Walker. When I started working at Channel 4 the filmmaker-comedian Lee Kern (Co-producer of Who Is America? with Sacha Baron Cohen) gave me a copy of the film he had just finished (2003) as a tribute to a forwards runner, as mysterious as Michael Dickinson.

Lee’s affectionate film, The Edgware Walker, was first broadcast in 2004 (Channel 4). Its core message is that is is important to engage with such people where we live, including asking them questions as you would your friends and neighbours. 

Things That Are No More No. 1

Alan Parker and the curse count

the commitments alan parker movie film

The Commitments (1991)

I met London-born director Alan Parker once – it was at the Dorchester hotel in Park Lane at some film-related event, around 2004. As we were walking out I took the opportunity to tell him a story about my younger son and The Commitments

Like many parents I tended to show my children movies too young, forgetting the detail of the content. One afternoon I was sitting watching The Commitments with the pair of them, connecting them to the Irish half of their identity. Enfant Terrible No. 2 disappeared off mid-movie for a few minutes to run upstairs and get the stopwatch his Auntie Bernadette had recently bought him. He then reinstalled himself on the sofa and carried on watching, shiny new present in hand. After a while he turned to me (he’s about five at the time) and said: “Dad, do you realise it’s 3 minutes, 48 seconds since the last ‘Fuck’?” like that was some kind of record in linguistic restraint.

I find The Commitments a pretty flawless film, the music performed with brilliant energy, the casting of Andrew Strong as Deco key to the success of the movie.

birdy movie alan parker 1984

Birdy (1984) – Nicolas Cage & Matthew Modine

Whilst I got as excited as the next kid about Bugsy Malone and the splurge guns, it was Birdy, which came out as I started uni, which made a real mark on my growing up. Matthew Modine’s performance is very moving, perfectly supported by a young Nicholas Cage.

Mississippi Burning movie film alan parker 1988

Mississippi Burning (1988) Willem Dafoe & Gene Hackman

Mississippi Burning remains one of my favourite Alan Parker movies. Although it’s probably looked down on these days for having largely white saviours, it’s as cinematic and compelling as you could wish. It would make a great double bill with Ava DuVernay’s  Selma. I’ll be watching it as a single bill this evening in memory and celebration of Alan Parker who went to the Big Studio in the sky yesterday. For me what he stood for was the ability to make entertaining and emotionally satisfying films which were accessible/mainstream and yet imaginative and substantial.

 

Wider Wake

I’ve noticed something reading Finnegans Wake for the first time – I call it ‘Wake Hang-over’. During the Corona lockdown I begin every morning by going out in the garden and reading. Latterly I start with a couple of pages of the Wake and then whatever book I’m reading, currently a light whodunnit by Anthony Horowitz entitled Magpie Murders, easy reading for hard times. When I go to read the second book I find that for a while I’m still in a different reading mode, hyperalert for word play, connections, double meanings; somehow floating a bit above the text; inhabiting a strangely comic world – or is it a comically strange one? That unique reading mode gradually fades but the overlap is interesting and enjoyable. As a linguist, it’s a bit like when you come out of a foreign language, back to English, and the shapes and dynamics of that other language are still what’s shaping your consciousness and thinking.

Picking up from my previous (second) Wake post I’m quickly going to update my lists:

hce food service equipment logo

HCE

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman – “for every busy eerie whig’s a bit of a torytale to tell” (20)
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella
  • haughty, cacuminal, erubescent (55)
  • Humpheres Cheops Exarchas (62)
  • Haveyou-caught-emerods (63)
  • Hyde and Cheek, Edenberry (66)
  • House, son of Clod, to come out you jew-beggar to be Executed (70)
  • Et Cur Heli! (73)
  • at Howth or at Coolock or even at Enniskerry (73)

finnegans wake plaque mullingar house chapelizod

On Mullingar House pub, Chapelizod, Dublin

Dublin

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool
  • Dablena Tertia (57)
  • Doveland (61)
  • Dulyn (64)
  • Dubblenn (66)
  • deeplinns (76)
  • blackpool (85) Blackpool (88)

And I’m starting a third such list- variations on “Ireland”. There is a linkage between HCE and Ireland: HCE > Earwicker > Earlander > Eire > Ireland

Joyce surname ireland map 1901

Ireland

  • Errorland (62)
  • Aaarlund (69)
  • aleland (88)

(So these are all cumulative lists.)

To round off this post I’d like to start highlighting some of my favourite neologisms and word-collisions. Like the lists above, these highlight the variety and persistence of Joyce’s ludic approach to language. Joyce is “a mixer and wordpainter” as he describes Hyacinth O’Donnell on p.87.

The playfulness and transmutation of language is the essence of the dream state and the act of “sewing a dream together” (28) which is this fluid, complex book. “intermutuomergent” (55) is a wordflow that captures the dynamics of the language of the Wake. This is the “meandertale” (18) to end all meandertales. (The wandering river, the Liffey, runs through that heart of it, personified in ALP. And the neanderthal is just beneath the skin of us hairless apes, we Chimpdens.)

  • tellafun book (86) [telephone]
  • lexinction of life (83) [lexicon/extinction]
  • nekropolitan (80)
  • timesported across the yawning (abyss) (56) [transported across time]
  • to clapplaud (32) [clap]

BTW my favourite Wake website so far is From Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay, a blog by Peter Chrisp.

Returning to lockdown, on the basis that the Wake touches on everything, this seems like a good Corona sentence: “the obedience of the citizens elp the ealth of the ole” (76).

 

 

Quotation: Teach us rightly to number our days

On holidays and such circumstances we have a conversation in my family about tattoos. I’ve made 51 tattoo films in my career including In Your Face for Real Stories/Little Dot Studios (100M+ views) and The Male Body Handbook: Tattooed for Channel 4. The conversation springboards from the question: If you were to have a tattoo, what would it be? I always end up saying the only thing I would want to see every day is something that was or meant “Carpe Diem”.

As I sit writing this at my desk there is a marble tablet to my right – a cheap bit of tourist tat from when I visited Rome a couple of years ago to speak at MIA – the Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo film festival/market. The tablet, quite heavy, says:

CARPE DIEM

QUAM MINIMUM

CREDULA POSTERO

Quinto Orazio Flacco

So the phrase we are familiar with actually has a broader context: Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow. It comes from Book 1 of (Roman poet) Horace’s Odes (23 BC). Quinto Orazio Flacco in Latin is Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace.

I don’t really like the look of Carpe Diem. Carpe reminds me of carp, the fish that Eastern Europeans love to consume for some reason. Diem contains “die”. So I was pleased to find another quotation this week (at the funeral of my step-father) which means much the same thing. It is from the Old Testament, Psalm 90 (verse 12):

Teach us rightly to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I read this as an exhortation to value each day and recognise that it is one of a limited number we are each allotted – through that perspective, brought to mind daily, we can become wise at heart (as opposed to at head).

The nearest tattoo I can find is Psalm 90:14, two doors down, nicely done but not at all the same:

I am big on the word “joy” though – my daily mantra is “I will enJOY my day” – and I’m all up for being “glad all our days”, but it’s not for me.

However Psalm 90:12 is not quite snappy enough – it is great for an arch in a cemetery but not quite right for my arm.

Back to the fantasy tattoo drawing board…

In the meantime In Your Face has just been awarded the Best Documentary accolade in the Lockdown Short Film Showcase run by London Short Film, of which more tomorrow…

%d bloggers like this: