It seemed odd that the police were stopping taxi drivers to breathalyse them. In England, we assume - perhaps naively – that no one who earns their living by driving would risk their license by doing so under the influence. Our Dublin taxi driver explained to us that it’s fairly common to be pulled over by the Gardaí … and I suppose we should be reassured by it.
I was in Dublin in grey, early September to help provide some family therapy training (along with my fellow trainers from the Nova Scotia adventure, Chris and Julia.) Early starts and long days meant there wasn’t much daylight left by the time we got back to the very comfortable Ashling Hotel. No time to visit the museum or even the Guinness Museum though, luckily, Guinness isn’t only found in museums. But then nor is it always found in pubs. I managed to find an Irish pub that didn’t sell Guinness; The Porterhouse in Temple Bar specialises in ‘craft beers’. One in particular, called Galway Hooker, was rather tasty. What more innocent pleasure can there be, I put it to you, than to enjoy a Galway Hooker at the Porterhouse?
And then and only then, it was autumn …
Sunday, 15 September 2013
Live at The Artrix, Bromsgrove,
Live at The Artrix, Bromsgrove,
Thursday 5th September, 2013
Singer-songwriter, virtuoso guitarist and banjo-player, Martin Simpson chose to begin his UK tour at Bromsgrove’s wonderful Artrix. He’s promoting Vagrant Stanzas — his latest ‘record’ as he calls it — the title referring to those lines and verses that seem to migrate from one song and crop up in another, across the miles, down the generations.
Simpson is steeped in English traditional folk song but spent many years in the States absorbing Americana and the blues, so he eased into his set with some of his distinctive slide guitar-playing, in which he somehow conjures harmonics and overtones where you’d least expect them.
Highlights this evening included songs from the new album like Jackie and Murphy (a tale of an unlikely pair of heroes of the Battle of Gallipoli) and an interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Stranger Song. Leon Rosselson’s Palaces of Gold was excoriating, Anne Lister’s Icarus poignant and I was delighted Simpson chose to open the second half with Kit’s Tune/When a Knight Won his Spurs.
Simpson kept the audience’s rapt attention with a carefully-chosen selection of traditional and more contemporary songs and tunes and a brief interlude on banjo — the latter instrument, he told the audience, a 60th birthday present to himself.
This is an uncompromising musician who takes his craft seriously. At each round of applause there is only the faintest flicker of a smile but the anecdotes with which he punctuates the music show great humour and give the whole evening cohesion. Martin Simpson’s performance is delicate, unassuming, dazzling.
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Question: How could you logically travel from Halifax to Truro in a north-easterly direction?
Answer: When you are in Nova Scotia.
|The multi-coloured houses of Lunenburg|
and cars without front registration plates
Truro is perhaps not the most exciting place in Canada but, as a centre for training people from all over the province, it made geographical sense. It’s described as a ‘hub’ and was once the point of convergence of major railway lines but I was surprised to learn much of the railway network has closed, simply because, so I was told, ‘Everyone has a car and the highway network is so good’. Nova Scotia is now left with a legacy of disused railway-lines-turned-cycle-tracks which, sadly, I had neither the time nor the bike to enjoy.
The Nova Scotians seem to be generally an unassuming, rather conservative people who made us feel very welcome with their enthusiasm for learning and their commitment to improving the lives of families dealing with mental health problems. So what does a British visitor notice that’s different from the UK?
A few precious bananas appeared in the hotel one day but, within 24 hours, they had converted themselves into a banana dessert. Curiously, slices of oranges were de rigueur, whether on the edge of a pint of Rickards White beer or as an accompaniment to poached eggs. Apart from these ubiquitous slithers of orange, fruit was, if not forbidden, rare.
After a week in Truro, the enthusiastic politeness of the hotel staff was wearing a bit thin. Call it grumpiness, but an English person is satisfied with a grunt when he thanks a waitress for pouring his coffee whereas it is the Canadian reflex to declare: ‘You’re welcome!’ at every turn. I had the privilege to meet some great characters and kind souls in Nova Scotia and so - perhaps despite rather because of the urgent, insistent ‘You’re welcomes’ - I genuinely did feel very welcome in this big, beautiful, peaceable province.
Sunday, 26 May 2013
Unknown Mortal Orchestra — live at Thekla, Bristol
Tuesday 7th May, 2013
I'd heard some tracks by Unknown Mortal Orchestra on BBC 6 Music but no one else I know seemed to be aware of them. When I discovered they were playing in Bristol in the week of my birthday, it seemed like a perfect excuse to hook up with my son Dan -- currently a Bristol resident -- for a chilled-out, father/son, gig-going experience.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) is led by Ruban Nielson (former member of the Mint Chicks) — a New Zealander now based in Portland, Oregon. UMO were supported by Splashh -- a four-piece psychedelic rock band that also includes a smattering of New Zealanders.
The unusual setting for the gig was Thekla – an award-winning venue that's actually a cargo ship moored in the Mud Dock area of Bristol's Floating Harbour. (The ship was originally brought to Bristol as a music and theatre venue by the wife of Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fame.) I'd been aboard the Thekla years ago though I can’t recall which band I saw. (Dan tells me it's more interesting to see gigs there on a stormy winter's night because you forget you're on a boat and are suddenly reminded when the venue starts to sway.) But it was a calm, early May evening when we embarked to see UMO.
Support act Splashh, despite the aptness of their maritime-sounding name, were disappointing. I tried to imagine their songs performed without the arsenal of effects pedals and suspected there would be little left behind to enjoy. The sound was unbelievably distorted. There’s psychedelic and lo-fi ... and then there's just distorted. By contrast, UMO sounded fuzzy in a good way. Ruban, in a leather jacket with a Monkees logo on the back, is a talented guitarist and songwriter and gave an assured performance with solid but unassuming backup from bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare.
Gillam the Younger looked pretty unimpressed throughout the gig and told me he enjoyed the psychedelic cover version encores more than the main set. As for Old Man Gillam, well, I was glad to have witnessed UMO in action. Ruban has a gift for creating chirpy songs with sprightly guitar parts and quirky, sometimes incongruously dark lyrics. Who could fail to delight in the hook ‘... so good at being in trouble, so bad at being in love ...'? The intriguingly-titled The Opposite of Afternoon could, in a parallel universe, have been a lost track by the Young Rascals while UMO’s nearest thing to a hit single, Swim and Sleep, epitomises their plaintive pop sensibility:
‘I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does,
I'd fall to the bottom and I'd hide till the end of time
in the sweet cool darkness, asleep and constantly floating away ...’
- Tony Gillam
- Is it 'Tony Gillam' or 'Anthony Gillam'? Well, both actually. I write for children under the name Anthony Gillam, and for adults as Tony Gillam. Why? Because, as Tony Gillam, I've written lots of articles and a text book for mental health nurses and, when it came to writing my first children's novel ('A Passenger in Time'), I thought I'd take on a different identity so people wouldn't get confused! I'm afraid it may have only added to the confusion. I'm a member of the writers' group Severn Valley Authors who also have a blog - http://severnvalleyauthors.blogspot.com/ Currently I'm working on a number of short stories, a handful of songs, a few articles and the beginnings of another book.