Thursday, September 24, 2015

Southern California Chronicles

I've had cause to visit Southern California again. The first time in five years or so. It really is a lovely place. That is if you can can ignore the gridlock, air pollution and the massive overcrowding that seems to have occurred since I was first a resident there in 1987. Nearly 30 years ago, bugger! I must have blinked and missed two-and-a-half decades. At least that's what it feels like. Anyway I also had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with film photography. If you are a Millennial reading this (which I doubt) you won't understand the mystique of such antiquated technology so you may want to look away now. But let me tell you that it's a marvellous medium. I recently acquired off eBay a little Rollei 35mm pocket camera. Before my trip I packed a couple of rolls of Ilford FP4 monochrome film, loaded the Rollei (something I haven't done for 15 year but it's just like riding a bike) and set off. The trip was great.  I somehow remembered to take photos without autofocus, autowind, auto-preview, auto review and everything else we take for granted, even on an iPhone camera. Below are a few snaps that I think capture the zeitgeist of SoCal. Sea, sand, surf, music, automotive culture and of course, girls. Remember the Beach Boys, California Dreamin' and all that? No? Never mind. Take a look at the snaps below and rejoice in their marvellous organic quality.  Just like vinyl recordings, film photography is a little fussy but hard to beat. Now if you'll excuse me I've got to wax my surfbord...

Surfing at Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The Pacific Ocean has a unique magical quality.
Motorcycle engineering art on historic Highway 101. The joy of motoring up the Pacific Coast  is hard to describe and not to be missed.
The "Lunacy" trio bang out some great twangy surf sounds at The Pannikin Coffee Shop.
Young woman texting in La Jolla. OK it's Liv -I'm sure she won't mind if I tell you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Remembering the Battle of Britain

The climax of the Battle of Britain was fought on this day, 75 years ago. Below are a couple of photos as a tribute to "The Few".

Four Spitfires fly in formation through moody skies. RAF Duxford, September 2014

Spitfires on the ground and waiting for the "Scramble!" order. RAF Duxford, 2014

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Well that's another year passed.  I'm celebrating in fine, age-appropriate, style. I'm now horribly old but grateful that I'm still here to enjoy these days. Oh and the blog is now 11 years old and by definition in its twelfth year. Who'da thought it?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Robert Douglas Eaton (1964-2001)

Remembering Robert Eaton, former chorister at St Paul's Cathedral, London, and my cousin. RIP!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Cardiff: A Tale of Two Cities

The author in Southern California beach mode and getting ready to wax down his surfboard.

Cardiff-by-the-What??? Sea of course! Hopefully the scene makes it obvious. At the time of the photo I wasn't in possession of a decent selfie-taking camera and I couldn't get the composition exact. Never mind. The point is that in my youth (four undergraduate years, to be precise) I was a resident of Cardiff, UK.  Or to be even more precise, Cardiff, Wales.  In my middle years I spent the best part of a decade in San Diego county quite near the delightful coastal town of Cardiff (by-the-Sea). I love both places to bits but as you can probably guess they don't have much in common. Cardiff, South Glamorgan has great music, rugby, a world class university, a fantastic castle and centuries of tradition and culture. Cardiff, Southern California has surfing, fish tacos, the Pacific Ocean and an absence on the streets of eight-pint-puddles of regurgitated Brain's Dark mixed with egg vindaloo curry. Magic stuff!   Hwyl fawr am nawr!

The Best Coffee Shop in the Universe

There is no better place than the Pannikin to sip your coffee or vanilla tea au lait but don't be too ambitious about what you want to achieve with your laptop as there is no wi-fi.

The best coffee shop in the universe? Who knows! But the Pannikin in Leucadia, San Diego county, is certainly my favorite. Nestled between historic Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean, this charmingly rustic place has been serving the good people of North County since 1968 and me since I discovered it 1987. Indeed I fully blame the place for my addiction to vanilla tea as it was here I got hooked sometime in the late Eighties. The only thing I don't recommend is the "Keith Richards Special". I sampled this fulminating brew of chocolate syrup and Lord-only-knows-how-many-shots-of-espresso once and turned into a gibbering speed freak for the rest of the day. Anyway I'm here visiting my offspring so I guess I'll have a double macchiato and a blueberry scone to start the day. Ciao!

PS I note that the establishment is owned by one Amanda Morrow. No close relation but the appreciation of good beverages is surely deep seated in our genes.

Friday, August 28, 2015

(I'm) Here, There and Everywhere

Alec Dankworth at work at the Love Supreme jazz festival, Glynde, Sussex, last month. Surely one of the finest bass pluckers of his generation.
With apologies to Lennon & McCartney, but one of the reasons for my paucity of posts here is that I'm spending more time over at Twitter, these days.  Its 140 character limit seems to suit my overly-burdened grey matter as well as my ever increasing interest in music photography/photoblogging. So until the next story, here's a nice pic of the excellent Alec Dankworth I snapped at the Love Supreme jazz festival last month.  Ci verdiamo!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Diaries: Curved Air

Back in 1972, British prog rock was at its peak. I was an undergraduate student and and heavily involved with my university's Rag and Entertainment Committees.  A perk of these duties was that I got to see many great bands and meet cool and interesting people. One of the standout groups that we hired for a Students' Union concert was Curved Air.  They were a genteel bunch of classically trained musicians who could rock like a hurricane  Now fast forward 43 years. The band is still going strong, albeit with a few personnel changes, and hasn't forgotten how to boogie. I was fortunate to find them performing in a church (of all places) in the heart of stock-broker belt Surrey a couple of months back. The years had not diminished them one bit and they gave a fantastic performance. Here's a few pics.

The band is fronted by founder member Sonja Kristina. That Washburn guitar has the best paint job ever.
Sonja's voice has matured and lost none of its crystalline clarity over the years.
Yehudi Menuhin school alum, Paul Sax, plays a demonic Zeta electric violin.
Chris Harris on bass. On this occasion he really held the band together as founder drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa was taken ill and couldn't play.
A church seemed like an odd place for a gig but actually worked really well. 
Paul and Sonja look pleased and relieved to finish the set without mishap in the absence of  their drummer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

48 Years Ago Today: Flute Thing performed by The Blues Project

I wish I'd captured this video clip. Or attended the concert.  But forty eight years ago today* I was 6000 miles away from California and sweating with the burden of academic endeavour. Specifically I was a  high school student in the UK taking my "O" levels in chemistry and other subjects. From my teenage perspective, leafy Surrey seemed like a boring and uncool location.  I was starting to become very aware of music and realised that the American scene was the happening place. (At least it was for awhile, but I won't digress now.)  Quite naturally the socio-cultural aspects of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival seemed a lot more interesting than prosaic regurgitations of the Haber Process and Hook's Law. So just why was this particular performance so notable? Let me explain...

Back in the day, the Monterey Festivals showcased many cutting edge acts that subsequently become milestones in the development of rock music.  Jimi Hendrix, the Mammas and Pappas, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and The Who were just a few of the luminaries that graced the stage at the county fairgrounds site. And then there was The Blues Project.  Never heard of them? Well neither had I until about six weeks ago when I chanced upon the above clip on YT.   This shameful lacuna of ignorance is particularly unforgivable on my part as (i) I fancy myself as a bit of a rock music historian and (ii) since my youth (1967 as it happens) I've been fascinated by the flute as an instrument in pop and rock music.  Well sadly The Blues Project are one of the most undeservedly unheard bands of all time.  Why?  Well, probably because they only lasted a couple of years with some of the band members (notably Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield) jumping ship to achieve recognition elsewhere.  But in those two years the band produced the gem in the vid clip above.  So what's the big deal?  Well I'll tell you. Five decades ago, only a few slightly masochistic jazz musicians played flute in the arena of popular music. Usually it was a novelty instrument brought out to make a change from relentless sax solos or to lead saccharine-sweet pop songs. Perhaps the first mainstream pop-prog band that used flute as a frontline instrument was The Moody Blues with Nights in White Satin.  However despite the undoubted appeal of NIWS it can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered jazz-rock-blues fusion. That accolade can be claimed by the mighty Jethro Tull who had their breakout concert until August 1968 but didn't really achieve wide recognition until 1969. Other woodwind-powered bands, Focus, Quintessence, King Crimson et al. all followed. The point I'm hopefully succeeding in making here is that back in 1967, The Blues Project, featuring the excellent Andy Kulberg, were way ahead of the pack with their use of flute in rock music and should be given appropriate credit. A particularly interesting aspect of the late Mr Kulberg's playing is the integration of electronics, in this case a directly miced-up flute and an Echoplex tape delay, to produce some wonderful psychedelic effects.

Anyway, watch the vid and enjoy this pioneering band.

* I wrote the draft of this post on 18th June 2015 but due to some quirk with Blogger I failed to get it to publish until today (29th June). Annoying but whateva!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Ageing Process

One of the correlates of encroaching geriatric numptitude is when one tries to drop a piece of rubbish vertically and at point blank range into a trash can and the said item of detritus misses. This has happened to me twice already today! Sad!  So I felt duly inspired to write a piece on ageing only to find that my daughter had just beaten me to it.  Probably a familial telepathy thing.  However there is no doubt that she completely outclasses me in terms of capturing the essence of the process.  Consider:

"If you're 97 and you die on the dance floor in Ibiza because you sniffed too much cocaine at a foam party, you're forever a legend. If you do the same thing at age 22 you're unlucky at best, and most likely a moron."

What more can I say? Molto bene!

Read the whole thing here at Viv la Liv.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musical Postcards: Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings

Pizza Express, Soho, London, W1. One of the best jazz venues in the UK (and, no, they are not paying me to write this!).
Recently, I bumped into old friend, Mitch Dalton, at the Pizza Express, Soho. His band, the Studio Kings, were on fine form. Indeed I haven't enjoyed a guitar-led jazz combo this much in ages.  Mitch describes his music as "smooth jazz". I don't think I agree as I usually equate the term with "muzak", "elevator music" or, Heaven forbid, Kenny G.  The Kings gave some highly original takes on several jazz standards including the Coltrane classic, Giant Steps as well as On Green Dolphin Street popularized by Miles Davis. The band's own Shuffle Kerfuffle was also a stand out piece. Nothing insipid here! Indeed the quality of musicianship was truly world class: over the course of the evening Mitch and the lads showed they could hop, skip and jump with the best of them. Most of the time they were melodic, nimble and quick but could segue into solid-as-fudge rock licks when required.  Great stuff! Do catch them if you get a chance.

Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings (Mitch Dalton, guitar; David Arch, Keys; Steve Pearce, bass; Brett Morgan, drums) at the Pizza Express, Soho, London.

Mitch Dalton lays down some great grooves: he's a flawless player capable of playing many styles of music.
The incomparable David Arch on keys. Dave was moonlighting from his regular gig as musical director of Strictly Come Dancing.
Steve Pearce on bass was brilliant. He's played with just about everybody and can get some amazingly subtle sounds out of his Fender bass.

Mitch's style reminds me of Lee Ritenour playing with American jazz giants, Fourplay

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Musical Postcards: Viper's Dream

A consequence of my recent, rather breathless, world travels has meant that I'm way behind on my posts. I caught this lively bunch in the UK in the autumn of last year. The band's name is taken from a Django Reinhardt tune and they emphasize the resurgence and continued popularity of the the gypsy jazz genre. Some of my earliest memories of jazz were of my Dad playing a Quintet of the Hot Club of France LP on our home gramophone and I guess I've been imprinted with an avid liking of the stuff ever since. Encore!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Demon Stalking

"Shoki creeping up on hidden demon" Ryakuga Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

I came across this marvelous Japanese ukiyo-e period woodblock recently. It's full of stealth, hidden menace, bravery and allegorical suggestion. Love it! Now where's my katana...?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Invisible Assets

I spotted this innovative fundraising venture on a trip to Cambridge, UK, sometime back in the autumn, last year.

This guy wins the prize for "Ingenuity and Enterprise" in MD's New Year's Honors list. I hope you find gainful employment soon, mate.

Happy New Year, Everybody!