Category Archives: music, books and writing

Open up

Cool blue sea and sky | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

I am working with a business colleague to launch a new business exhibition in the area. It’s quite exhausting, but also frightening to get this off the ground. A lot of preparation has gone into it and we are just starting to promote it. We’re at the stage when you do things and get no response, and start wondering whether it was such a good idea.

I have organised events like this before for other organisations so know what results look and feel like.

Over the weekend, I relaxed by baking a cake, cooking some meals, working on my art project and reading a history book for my MA, as well as walking with our dog. I deliberately didn’t spend any time on business so that I was fresh this morning.

Just now, I heard an email arrive and when I looked, I saw that our first exhibitor has booked their stand.

I now think: We are on our way.

It’s almost as though I had to back away to give it space and let things start to happen.

Being asked to blog for the Ultimate Blog Challenge on a song lyric or phrase that sticks in my mind, the following suggested itself:

“Just open your eyes, and realise,
The way it’s always been.
Just open your mind and you will find
The way it’s always been.
Just open your heart and that’s a start.”

This is from The Balance, written by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas for the Moody Blues’ A Question of Balance album way back in 1970, but I think the words have a lot of value.

Sometimes I find myself focusing too narrowly so that I pass by other things without seeing them. I need to consciously relax and open up to other influences and see what happens.

Opening my eyes, mind and heart seems a good approach to life.

Posted in a musing, music, books and writing.

Camille and Kennerly and their dual harp revolution

YouTube is a good place to discover new artists and among my favourites are Camille and Kennerly, the Harp Twins, who are driving their dual harp revolution.

Camille and Kennerly’s videos showcase their performances of a broad range of music interpreted by them on acoustic and electric harps. These vary from classic tunes to TV and film themes, classic rock and pop, and heavy metal. Not only are they talented composers, arrangers and performers, but they come across as very likeable in their videos, all of which feature well-chosen settings.

Here is their radical harp interpretation of Black Sabbath song Iron Man.

Visit Camille and Kennerly’s YouTube channel to explore more of their music, which you can also purchase by download and on CD.

Posted in music, books and writing.

The Residents: Animal Lover

I first heard The Residents’ version of Satisfaction while at school and was immediately intrigued. I remember heading down to Flyover Records in Hammersmith and greedily buying several albums, not knowing what to make of them and getting hooked on Not Available. I followed them for 15 years or so, still not knowing what to make of their provocative, jarring, humorous soundscapes, even seeing them perform The Mole Show at Hammersmith Odeon in the 1980s, before somehow losing interest.

Then, one day I bought their Demons Dance Alone CD and was hooked again, buying more albums including Animal Lover some eight or nine years ago. I listened to it once or twice and found it impenetrable. The Residents’ trademark has always been weirdness – accessibility is not one of their biggest qualities – but I just couldn’t get into it, so the album sat on my CD shelves gathering dust.

The Residents: Animal Lover | Robzlog @robertz

Then, several years ago, I stumbled on a remarkable YouTube video of a Residents’ song called My Window created by Virgil Pink. The animation is stunning, but the music is so poignant, the song referring to pets that have passed on. I wondered which album it was on and was stunned to see that it was on Animal Lover, already sitting on my shelves.

Now, five years ago, we lost our two cocker spaniels unexpectedly within about 13 hours of each other. We knew Felix was deteriorating with age, but Bosley had just passed his annual check-up: we were devastated. My Window touched a nerve here.

Another song, Inner Space, possibly tells of a woman visiting her dying father in a hospital or home (that’s my interpretation, but I’m sure there are others). Having sat with my brothers in a hospital vigil as our Mum passed away, again this song touched another nerve. The CD version I have includes a hardback booklet, not only with lyrics and illustrations but also with separate stories relating, possibly, to the songs. In the case of Inner Space, it’s about a mouse fed by a woman who comes to visit a man in a building. The Residents are visual as well as musical and performance artists and the book adds yet another dimension to the music. There is also a Virgil Pink video for this song.

All of the 15 songs and accompanying stories and illustrations reflect in some way human and animal relationships and contrasts. Apparently, the songs are based on the noise mating patterns of animals, but, apart from the album title, I wouldn’t have guessed that. As expected from the Residents, the subjects of the songs are not light and will not be to everyone’s taste – a bit like Private Eye magazine cartoons – but although there are some trademark distorted lyrics and jarring guitars and other instruments, the music is surprisingly mellow.

When I bought Animal Lover, my Mum’s illness was taking greater hold and I travelled regularly to see her. My usual cheer and resilience were drained and perhaps I did not have either the energy nor understanding to appreciate Animal Lover. I don’t suggest that this is the case for anyone else.

I have played several of the songs a lot recently and this morning played the album in its entirety, the music sounding so sweet. I wondered if I was meant to wait to appreciate this album or maybe it was waiting for me.

Animal Lover is one of a small number of albums and books that I have been unable to get to grips with first off, then left for years, only to discover afresh with new appreciation and enjoyment. Like most of the Residents’ work, it is not easy, but is worth listening to if you do find you appreciate it. I’m glad I do, even after such a long wait.

 

Posted in music, books and writing.

The Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to sprawl out and listen to an entire album’s worth of music. Today I did it. Last week Ray Thomas’ ‘Our Guessing Game’ went through my head and I thought it was time to savour the digitally remastered CD of The Moody Blues’ ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’.

Released 41 years ago, the question is always: does it stand as a listenable work today? The answer is: yes.

The Moody Blues were at the peak of their initial success in 1971 and this was the sixth of their ‘core seven’ albums. A gruelling work schedule – touring internationally in Europe, the USA and in front of 150,000 at the Isle of Wight and recording an album or two every year – was taking its toll. The Moodies had evolved from an underground band to international superstars and doubts were setting in. However, they continued to produce fine work.

‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ continued the Moodies’ concept approach from the start of the album to the finish. ‘Procession’ takes us from creation of the universe through to the development of human communication, leading into Justin Hayward’s ‘The Story in Your Eyes’, which the band still performs today. The doubt shows through: “I’ve been thinking about our fortune, And I’ve decided that we’re really not to blame.” It’s one of his best and a great, fast start to the album. Next ‘Our Guessing Game’, one of Ray’s best too, a reflective song contrasting with his whimsical ‘Nice to Be Here’, apparently inspired by Beatrix Potter, which has Hayward attempting to play a guitar solo on one string, but needing two! It’s good to see they could still have some fun, even though the pressures were getting to them. ‘After You Came’ is, for me, one of Graeme Edge’s best songs, with vocals by each of the rest of the band and a loud, driving finish.

John Lodge’s ‘One More Time to Live’ makes clever play of words, Hayward’s ‘You Can Never Go Home’ combines exquisite melodies with controlled yet blistering guitar, while ‘My Song’ creates an orchestral mellotron soundscape to which Mike Pinder bares his soul.

In those days, the Moodies looked to innovate and Graeme Edge played an electronic drum kit developed by Sussex University constructed with rubber, silver paper and magnets. While it worked in the studio, it was a nightmare to try to play live: a reminder of what was required to produce complex sounds before synthesisers made it possible for anyone.

Like all the ‘core seven’ albums, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ was intended to be played from start to finish in one sitting and today it still wafts you through 40 minutes without giving you time to think. Strong songs from five songwriters, singing from four superb vocalists plus virtuoso playing make this album a treat. The recording quality is superb, crisp and deep, and typically rich. Today I heard sounds I hadn’t picked out before or had forgotten.

The remastered version contains an unreleased Ray Thomas/Justin Hayward bonus track ‘ The Dreamer’, which is interesting but not the best of tracks for me, plus the more basic, original version of ‘The Story in Your Eyes’.

‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ is a bittersweet album. It’s not as optimistic as previous works and marked a turning point in the Moodies’ career, which would change the band forever.

As a band that is not generally in favour, I’m not sure how much it will appeal to many people, although I always find that once I start listening to the Moodies, I get hooked all over again. I think they deserve more airplay.

Posted in music, books and writing. Tagged with , , , .

Stacey Kent at the Plough Torrington Saturday 10 October 2009

Breakfast on the Morning Tram - Stacey Kent

Breakfast on the Morning Tram - Stacey Kent

From the very first note she sang it was clear that those of us lucky enough to be in the audience at the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington last night were about to experience two hours of the most sublime singing from Stacey Kent along with husband, composer, producer and saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and backed by an accomplished trio on piano, bass and drums.
Never knowing whether an artist performing live will match up to the expectations created by recordings, I have to say a shiver went down my spine in these opening seconds and on other occasions during this performance.
The set list was broad and varied from American show standards, such as ‘Easy to Remember’ and ‘If I were a Bell’, to the Latin ‘Samba Saravah’ and ‘Corocovado’.
The sign of a great performer is the appearance of effortless and Stacey made every song sound so easy with her perfect vocal control and diction a joy to hear. Another accomplishment is her ability to create her own version of songs, such as ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ and ‘What a Wonderful World.’
Much of the material was from Stacey’s most recent album, ‘Breakfast on the Morning Tram’ including the title track as well as ‘I wish I Could go Travelling Again’ and, one of my favourite numbers of the night, ‘The Ice Hotel’. Jim got an opportunity to shine with an instrumental version of the theme from ‘Alfie’.
Songs were interspersed with Stacey’s often rambling, bubbly accounts of her life, experiences of recording, learning Portuguese, her new album currently being recorded and lots more. I’m certain the audience could have sat entranced for another two hours as the time passed so fast.
Did the night live up to its promise? With a mix of American, Latin, French and Portuguese songs all performed with enthusiasm, sensitivity and emotion, I’d say it did. I’ll definitely look out for future performances in North Devon.

From the very first note she sang it was clear that those of us lucky enough to be in the audience at the Plough Arts Centre, Torrington last night were about to experience two hours of the most sublime singing from Stacey Kent along with husband, composer, producer and saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and backed by an accomplished trio on piano, bass and drums.

Never knowing whether an artist performing live will match up to the expectations created by recordings, I have to say a shiver went down my spine in these opening seconds and on other occasions during this performance.

The set list was broad and varied from American show standards, such as ‘Easy to Remember’ and ‘If I were a Bell’, to the Latin ‘Samba Saravah’ and ‘Corocovado’.

The sign of a great performer is the appearance of effortless and Stacey made every song sound so easy with her perfect vocal control and diction a joy to hear. Another accomplishment is her ability to create her own version of songs, such as ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ and ‘What a Wonderful World.’

Much of the material was from Stacey’s most recent album, ‘Breakfast on the Morning Tram’ including the title track as well as ‘I wish I Could go Travelling Again’ and, one of my favourite numbers of the night, ‘The Ice Hotel’. Jim got an opportunity to shine with an instrumental version of the theme from ‘Alfie’.

Songs were interspersed with Stacey’s often rambling, bubbly accounts of her life, experiences of recording, learning Portuguese, her new album currently being recorded and lots more. I’m certain the audience could have sat entranced for another two hours as the time passed so fast.

Did the night live up to its promise? With a mix of American, Latin, French and Portuguese songs all performed with enthusiasm, sensitivity and emotion, I’d say it did. I’ll definitely look out for future performances in North Devon.

Posted in music, books and writing, performance. Tagged with , , , , , , , , .
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