Archived entries for Music

“The next tune to arrive on platform three….”

It’s been great to be back in the UK for a little while over Christmas, catching up with family and friends. A couple of memorable moments included:

Seren being too quick for us and falling down the stairs at my parents’ house. “I’m going downstai-” Thud thud thud crash. Luckily the stairs were carpeted and she was fully dressed with jeans on so she was fine.

From a young Dad and friend of ours, listening to an absolutely hilarious blow-by-blow account of childbirth, told at lightning speed, on the way home from the pub, with both my brothers looking horrified with every extra bit of detail they really didn’t want to hear.

Sharing recommendations about local ales in a tiny pub – I didn’t spend all my time drinking, honest – with a random chap at the bar. “It’s a very consistent ale, that one. You can go anywhere in the country and if they have that ale, it’ll always taste the same.”

Golden Pippin


Drinking whisky – honestly, I was sober for some of the time – while watching a fantastic adaptation of William Boyd’s novel Restless on the BBC.

Zoe and I watching a stunning sunset across a Hampshire field, while getting soaked with rain. Some very impressive dawn skies too.

Hampshire sunset

Hampshire sunrise

Hampshire sunrise


Listening to a stranger playing some pieces by Ludovico Einaudi on the free pianos that have been installed in St Pancras station in London. A lad was just walking by with his girlfriend, spotted the piano sitting there and started to play. A beautiful, spontaneous moment which had Seren and I enthralled for a good 20 minutes. Possibly the first and last time I will hear live, classical piano mixed with loudspeaker announcements about the next train.

Sixty Seconds with St Vincent

St Vincent

Annie Clark, also known as St Vincent, is a US singer-songwriter whose latest album, Actor, has recently been released to favourable reviews thanks to its its haunting melodies and lyrical playfulness.

I caught up with Annie shortly after she played an impromptu gig in the Archiduc pub here in Brussels, for a quick 60-second soundbite:

What were you trying to achieve with the new album?

“I wanted to make Disney meets a horror film…pretty much.”

Where would you say you get your inspiration from?

“Real life meets Bukowski [German American poet, novelist, and short story writer].”

How about influences from the past?

“Well I read a lot of books and watched a lot of films…I watched the entire Woody Allen catalogue.”

Are you enjoying Brussels?

“Brussels is great, I really like it. It’s fun. My favourite European show I last played was at Botanique [one of Brussel’s main music venues], about a year and a half ago.”

If you had to choose, which albums would you take to a desert island?

“I hope I’m never on a desert island! I would get SO bored. Let’s see…that’s really hard. It’s a serious question. I’m going to say…a Steely Dan box set of cassettes…Petrushka…and Grizzly Bear.”

You can hear more of St Vincent on her Myspace page and her new album is available from Amazon here.

SPOT on Denmark

SPOT on Denmark

Here are some new photos from this year’s SPOT on Denmark event, a concert which bring differents Danish music to Brussels. You can see the photos in the photo gallery and for more information about the event, visit The Rocking Factory. Enjoy!

Left in the dark


Here are some fine examples of the sort of sentences you can find in EU press releases which might leave you unconvinced that, as the EU’s communications chief Margot Wallström puts it, “communicating with the citizens of the European Union has been a primary concern for this Commission from the very start.” It’s not hard to see how the following extracts indicate that citizens tend to be left in the dark over what the EU actually does:

“The Organic Farming Campaign was developed with an umbrella–style approach that serves the interests of organic operators within the EU and empowers them to actively promote organic farming.”

In this press release on organic farming, what on earth do the words “developed with an umbrella-style approach” actually mean? Does anybody use this sort of language in real life? If your next-door neighbour called and told you that “I think we can sort that problem of your faulty wiring/creaking stairs/farting cat with an umbrella-style approach, John”, you’d think the poor man had finally lost his mind. Try as I might, I can’t for the life of me picture what an “organic operator” might be, short of some sort of root vegetable manning the phone lines.

Have you heard what’s on the programme for the Ambassadors Event for 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue? Well, keep this to yourself, but apparently “going beyond an exchange of opinions, this event will illustrate dialogue between artists through creative performances – through music, film, art and literature.” Anyone understand that last part? You can’t relate to this kind of language, in the same way that it’s pretty unlikely that you’d relate to someone who, on walking out of a spectacular concert, and turned to their friends and said, “Man, that was amazing, the way those guys managed to illustrate dialogue through creative performances, it totally blew my mind.”

Fishermen might have trawl nets for fish, it looks like they also need them to understand how EU policies are affecting them. Member states need to step up and improve their maritime policies, says the EU, so according to this press release from July, “the Commission proposed to Member States that they should inject an integrated approach into their domestic maritime governance, which will better equip the EU as a whole to achieve its ambitions for preserving and exploiting the potential of the oceans and seas in an optimized fashion.” How you inject an approach, let alone an integrated one, (“Now brace yourself for this, dear, I’m just going to inject an integrated approach towards tidying the bathroom cupboard.”) is beyond me. Why simply “make the most” of the Summer holidays when you can be “preserving and exploiting the potential…in an optimised fashion”?

Ironically, it is another press release on “How to reconcile the national and European dimension when communicating Europe”, that manages to sum up the conclusion of this post in a surprisngly clear and concise manner. The European economic and social committee (EESC) quite rightly said that more needs to be done at the national and local level because “It is impossible to communicate to 500 million Europeans from Brussels.” What the EESC also points out, however, is that what is badly needed is for the EU “to use clear and simple language.”

You never know, it might improve, if the EU’s communication departments take the time to think about whether or not what they’re actually writing makes sense.

To put it another way, using an EU phrase, if “the integrated thinking which is at the heart of this policy permeates into policy-making and executive action.”

Playlists of the Past

Don’t you just love, sometimes, to listen to those pieces of music which will throw you back in time and enable you to relive memories, to feel the same as you once did, provoked by listening to music that made up your playlist at the time? The handy thing about having a digital music player is that in an instant you can call up a song which perhaps you haven’t listened to for months, even years, without having to root around in the attic for that long-lost CD or record. Digital music also avoids that once-familiar problem of remembering that you lent the CD to someone who is now taking a year out, in Siberia.

There’s something about music which for me encourages memories that are much more vivid than if I were to look at an old scrapbook of photographs. This is because, I suspect, I am one of those people who always has music on the go, in addition to being someone who listens to a particular favourite playlist, consisting of the same three or four artists, for weeks at a time. So the events that unfold are mostly accompanied by music, and I think it’s this entanglement of my thoughts and the things I listen to that enables me, later on, to bring back those thoughts and feelings through music.

The resurfacing of old thoughts and feelings can be quite useful, I’ve found, because, provided you can take a step back it’s an interesting self-experiment. Especially examining, through memory, the characteristics of that situation you’ve remembered. To look at what it was about those particular circumstances that produced those emotions. Observing how one reacts emotionally to different circumstances is, of course, difficult in the chaotic arena of Real Life, in which we are forced Deal with Things As They Happen. Looking (or rather, listening) back, though, I’ve sometimes found that it’s possible to stumble across another perspective on things that, although useless in changing the past, enables me to learn that little bit more about myself, the way I react to things, and might hopefully lead to a more cautious attitude in the future.

“Where everything flows…”

It was reading the review of the album in the Guardian on Friday that clinched it. That and being the sort of fan that owns a copy of Ian McDonald’s Revolution In The Head . If you know that book then, chances are, you too have rushed out to buy the same album. If you haven’t, well, you’re missing out. In this book you can discover everything from how much marijuana the group smuggled into Rishikesh, India, on their retreat, to who played the Cor Anglais on Penny Lane . Beauty, details, etc.

If you’re still with me, and haven’t rushed out of your room, computer lab or detention centre at the first sight of Beatles Details (…Beatails?…), you’ll have guessed that, yep, I’ve gone and bought the new Beatles album, Love , remixed and remastered by George Martin (who else?) and his son, Giles.

The songs – there are 26 of them – have been remastered in 5.1 Surround Sound. I was unsure whether the album would “work” for me, because I’ve got permenant moderate sensorineural hearing loss (try saying that with a mouthful of peas).
You’ll be pleased to know it worked brilliantly.
Even I could tell on the first listen how clear and distinct the vocals, drums and other instruments were, from the haunting echoes of Lennon’s voice on Tomorrow Never Knows to the gentle acoustic intro of Here Comes The Sun and the powerful distortion on Revolution. There’s a fresh energy in songs like Lady Madonna or I Wanna Hold Your Hand now that the stomping piano chords and lively backing vocals are that much clearer.

What of the editing? Well, it’s a goldmine for Beatles’ fans, and generally a very uplifting album for those of you who don’t know what happens at 2:58 on Hey Jude (it’s been edited out for this album, by the way). Mixing different parts of loads of Beatles songs must have been a challenge and a half, it’s quite rightly been described as the “best job in the world” by Giles Martin and, of course, one that you’re only likely to get if you’re some sort of music producer genius…or the son of one.
It’s fantastically done, though, and you’re in for a feast of surprises; You’ll hear Ringo’s string-backed “Hovis Advert” vocals at the beginning of Octopus’s Garden, parts of an early rendition of A Day In The Life, George Harrison almost reciting the words of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and, if you close your eyes listening to Yesterday it’s as if you too were backstage watching a young McCartney sing it live for the first time. One of my particular favourites is a three-in-one mix of Drive My Car, What You Doing and The Word. It captures the Summer of Love vibe really effectively with it’s beautiful harmonies and upbeat tempo.

In fact, the mood of the whole album is joyous, because you’re essentially listening to old favourites, in much better quality, with pleasing little changes that keep you listening in anticipation. It’s a bit like having an old auntie round for tea, realising that she’s looking healthier than you’ve ever seen her, and discovering it’s because her knew hobby is off-piste snowboarding. You’ll be smiling for a long time afterwards.

Let’s just take you off that drip for a minute, dear, it’s time to start dancing!

I had my very first session as a radio broadcaster last night! I’ve been doing some work experience with Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd, a hospital radio station which broadcasts to the patients of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Llandudno hospital. Last night saw me co-present the show with Alan, and yes, I was nervous. Not so much about the broadcasting itself, you understand, because when there’s just the two of you in the studio with the mixing desk and computer, it’s really just as if you’re talking amongst yourselves, albeit with headphones and microphones attached.

No, what was going through my mind the whole time has to do with my tendency towards Stupid, Glaringly Inappropriate Talk, or, in short, the Stupid GIT effect. Those of you who are, like myself, rather absent-minded when it comes to Considering the Consequences, will know exactly what I mean. One becomes accustomed to the awkward silences, the attempts at avoiding eye-contact by feigning an oh-so-sudden interest in one’s own shoelaces, before finally reaching in the thick fog of embarrassment for that ever-handy escape route, the Random Excuse to Leave (or RELeave if you’re taking shorthand).
Most of us, with the exception of, perhaps, Mother Teresa, have been there at some point. You’re in the company of the local vicar, spill the tea as you pass her a cup and, thoughts elsewhere, you mutter “Christ, that’s hot!” as the scalding beverage trickles down your hand.
You’re at the bus stop, talking to the man in the wheelchair, and in the middle of the discussion on the state of public transport you rhetorically inquire, “Don’t you just hate it when you have to leg it for the bus?”

So, when I was doing my co-presenting last night, although I was only really reading out requests, I kept thinking of topics or jokes that I just should mentally label as UNSAFE. There’s an example, right there: I did not, for example, have a “mental” Friday night out; I had, for the sake of the listeners, a delightful time at the…jigsaw club dinner.

Hospitals have got enough issues with people complaining about the lack of hygiene. Let’s hope Hospital Radio doesn’t make it to their list of things which need to be kept clean…

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