Archive for the ‘Share’ Category

The Bevy; a co-op run for Bevendean, Brighton

Posted 03 Feb 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Beer, General, Share

Brighton is pretty spoiled for places to get a drink; we have a jolly impressive 278 pubs for 250,000 residents, but of course that doesn’t mean that every community is equally well represented. The area of Moulsecoomb (which includes the huge Bevendean and Bates Estates) contains over 18,000 residents, and is thought to be one of the most populated areas in the county without a local. Since police closed down the troublesome Bevendean pub in 2010, residents have nowhere to drink and (more importantly) nowhere to hang out and talk.

So what’s the answer? The answer is The Bevy.

The Bevendean Pub, founded by residents of Moulsecomb and Bevendean, will be the first co-op run pub on a city estate in the UK. The pub is happening because of collaboration and social capital, with locals and supporters of the project buying shares in the pub and gaining a say in its future in the process. The aim is to “create a place to eat, meet, drink, study and relax in the heart of [the] community!”, incorporating a pub, a cafe, a community kitchen and garden, as well as meeting rooms and play areas. They’ll grow their own salad, make good coffee and even collaborate with the excellent Brighton Bier Company to provide their own local ale. What a bloody brilliant idea it is.

In order to make this happen, the pub needs a lot of backing – so they’re offering shares at a minimum price of £10. I spent ten minutes chatting to the organisers at Seedy Sunday in Brighton today and invested a small amount in the project through their website when I got home. If you live in Brighton, care about pubs (18 close a week in the UK, you know) or want to encourage local, community solutions to societal problems, please consider getting involved. Buying a share through paypal took me less than 2 minutes – and made me feel good all evening.

Here are the links you need:
The Bevy on Twitter
The Bevy’s own website
Their prospectus [17mb]
The Bevy on Friendface

Ace.

Li Lanqing, British Museum

Posted 19 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Art, Reviews, Share

I called in at the box of delights which is the British Museum on my way to meet some friends in London last week. I like picking a theme when I go, as it’s otherwise impossible to choose where to go, and you end up stumbling from room to room in a kind of nostalgic daze, feeling progressively smaller and smaller as the treasures increase in scale. This time I decided to head to the Americas before anything else, and meandered through the Aztecs, the Arctic and the North American collections.

Before long I found myself predictably off-piste and gazing at a small temporary exhibition in the Far East rooms, 5 or 6 small cabinets containing a collection of of contemporary Chinese seals by Li Lanqing.

photo

Li is an engigmatic figure in modern Chinese politics; he served as Vice Premier of the State Council of China from 1993 to 2003 and played a crucial role in both the opening up of the State economically and the development of national education. Since his retirement from politics he’s turned his energy to the promotion of his two passions – classical music and seal-carving. The latter, one of the four traditional chinese art-forms (along with calligraphy, painting and poetry) is a truly ancient art, and Li’s interest illustrates the dichotomy present in his personal politics; he is a deeply modern man who is simultaneously respectful of tradition. Consequently his seals, which look at first to be deeply conventional, display a great deal of depth – often international in outlook, often witty and wise, always imbued with his passion for life, and very much of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

His passions shine through; there are stunningly beautifully wrought expressions and aphorisms (the tiny, contained ‘Eat like an ant’ and the wide, spare ‘My heart calm as the water’), and tributes to great figures like Dickens, Goethe and Cervantes. His ‘Opera Disc’ seal, with its use of the English language subverts the geographic specificity of his usual work.

One seal, Baiting Roast Duck Restaurant (Bad Officials are Examined by an Illiterate Person), provides a great example of Li’s playfulness. Featuring some strokes carved to print in red and some in white, the seal mimics a malfunctioning neon sign with half it’s lights out. Moreover, each colour’s message reads differently; the white a traditional advertisement for a famous Beijing restaurant, the white a critique of hapless officials.

It’s a lovely small exhibition, and a little, light-filled window into a big, powerful, slow-changing, subtle China.

Review; Clay by Melissa Harrison

Posted 04 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews, Share

Just finished reading Melissa Harrison’s lovely first novel, ‘Clay’, and wanted to pen a few thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind. ‘Clay’ is a terrifically beautiful book, a quiet, sensitive portrayal of the lives of a small cast of slightly lonely, slightly constrained protagonists, and their development over the course of a half year in a South London which is by turns familiar and gloriously unfamiliar.

Familiar because Harrison has a good grasp of the plain-sight city – “nail bars, chicken parlours, newsagents, mobile phone unlocking, cheap calls to Africa”, and exotic because she populates the city with a bewildering cast of living things which our eyes are either untrained to see or disposed to miss; dog foxes, bats, sticky goosegrass and evergreen choisya, butterflies, greenflies and stag beetles, swifts, starlings, and plane trees shedding flakes of polluted bark. Harrison’s prose is poetic but hyper-observant, always sensing new movement in the nearby undergrowth, or a pair of eyes watching high in a tree.

All five of the novel’s main characters see more of this hidden city than I (regrettably) do, and are to a smaller or greater extent drawn towards the area’s liminal places – the parts of London in which pockets of extraordinary life are concealed, yet continue to thrive – and in particular to a small park near Tooting Common, which becomes the space in which they meet and interact. At the centre is TC, whose story of neglect is painfully sad but whose resourcefulness and passion for nature is a rebuke to his coddled, careless peers. Around him Harrison conjures a story quite free of sensationalism or sentimentality, but which is quietly gripping and somewhat inspiring.

The clay of the title refers to a phrase recalled from childhood – ‘we are the clay that grew tall’, which resonates through the novel; TC is a child ‘on intimate terms with the earth’. Jozef, an exile from Poland, mourns the physical properties of the farm he grew up on. Sophia, growing old on a council estate her family have left, does her best to disrupt the order which the council wish to impose upon the wedge-shaped park she has watched over for decades, her pockets bulging with papery bulbs.

‘Clay’ is a very satisfying read; a serious book which evokes important topics like innocence, companionship and trust, but which is driven forward by the author’s obvious, intimate connection with nature.

Very pleased that it’s the first thing I read in 2013; it’s a short, brilliant novel that makes me want to rush out into the woods.

The Green Centre, Brighton

Posted 20 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category General, Share, Video

One of the most inspiring Green organisations I’ve come across is based on my doorstep right here in Sussex. My girlfriend Lyndsey has been volunteering at The Green Centre, situated in East Brighton, for the last three years, and at a recent Open Day & Recycling Bonanza I helped out and, working with a fellow film-maker, Dan Corns, made this video about the centre and its amazing Creative Director, Melanie Rees.

Mel has turned the centre into a real community project, working with local people to create a sustainable, open and inspiring space. The Green Centre market is full of nice objects which keep the business ticking over, but the heart of the Centre is the amazing recycling resource it offers, helping to ensure that practically nothing goes to waste, but is re-used, re-cycled or re-purposed. Out in the back of the Centre, a new pond provides social housing for the local wildlife.

The whole thing is brilliant. Please watch and share the video, and do feel free to stop by the Centre or like it on Facebook.

The Green Centre, Brighton from What You Sow on Vimeo.

[Filmed using two Canon 600Ds, a Zoom H1, and edited in Final Cut Pro X]

Review; Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Posted 18 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews, Share

As usual I’m working my way through the Booker Prize shortlist, and while I’ve not read the whole lot yet, I’ve been very much stopped in my tracks by ‘Swimming Home’, the new novel by Deborah Levy, which – while a short read – has resonated at the edge of my thoughts constantly since I finished it a few days ago.

The book is as clean and clear as the ringing of a bell, but quietly and meticulously poetic, full of beautiful language and deeply visual storytelling. Set around a holiday villa in the south of France, where the warm sun seems to stir a mild fever, it conjures up a series of unforgettable images – from the sight of a naked girl swimming resembling a bear, to a boy emerging from a wall, and a centipede examined clambering out of a bucket. A very middle class English family – the Jacobs – holiday abroad with friends and get tangled up with Kitty Finch, a provocative and very cinematic agent of change, who pulls and tears at the delicate conventions of the family. And Levy is a truly superb writer, distracting the reader so with her style that the plot twists, when they come, left me startled, uneasy.

Levy’s characters are on the precipice of self-discovery but numbed, needing the disruptive power of Kitty Finch to shake them up. Of Isabel Jacob, a foreign correspondent unable to reconcile her life as a journalist and a mother, Levy writes, “If she knew that to be forceful was not the same as being powerful and to be gentle was not the same as being fragile, she did not know how to use this knowledge in her own life or what it added up to”. Her husband, Joe, seems at first blithe and unfeeling, but his crime of conscience is deliberate forgetting. Kitty, who shares aspects of his past he tries to ignore, stirs him to action. But as each character attempts to guide proceedings, their lack of control is made apparent, and things spiral out of hand. Levy’s handling of this approaching chaos is masterly. It’s truly a very lovely book.

I raced through this in two or three hours, and knew immediately on finishing that it would merit a re-read. Oddly, I’m impatient to finish the rest of the shortlist so that I might get back to it.

A real winner. Hopefully – in terms of the Booker Prize – literally.

On Roald Dahl Day

Posted 17 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Observations, Share

It was Roald Dahl Day last Thursday; like everyone my age (and probably a great many people younger and older), Dahl left an indelible mark on me during my childhood; particularly with The BFG, The Witches and Matilda, all three of which I can remember being published (the first only hazily). But of course there’s much to love in the earlier books too, for example in Danny The Champion Of The World, which is lovely on the relationship between a boy and his father, particularly the pride the child takes in his father’s powerful knowledge of the world.

In a passage which has since been successfully (and lovingly) lampooned by the fantastic Adam Buxton, (here), Dahl captures that wonder.

I really loved those morning walks to school with my father. We talked practically the whole time. Mostly it was he who talked and I who listened, and just about everything he said was fascinating. He was a true countryman. The fields, the streams, the woods and all the creatures who lived in these places were a part of his life. Although he was a mechanic by trade and a very fine one, I believe he could have become a great naturalist if only he had had a good schooling.

Long ago he had taught me the names of all the trees and the wild flowers and the different grasses that grow in the fields. All the birds, too, I could name, not only by sighting them but by listening to their calls and their songs.

In springtime we would hunt for birds’ nests along the way, and when we found one he would lift me up on to his shoulders so I could peer into it and see the eggs. But I was never allowed to touch them.

I overheard a nice exchange on the train today, which offered up a nice insight into modern day parenting. A young, mop-headed boy sat with his father on the 5.21 from Chichester to Brighton. He looked up and asked his dad a question.

“Dad, what’s the speed of light?”

I smiled to  myself, suspecting (rightly) that his father wouldn’t know the answer offhand (I don’t either, sadly). It felt like a slightly sad moment to me – the son still too young to realise that adults don’t have all the answers.

But the father did something very clever. Instead of immediately replying, he engaged his son in conversation, asking him what made him want to know that, and generally talked confidently around the subject while he quickly tapped into his mobile phone. When – only moments later – Google provided him with the answer, he was able to very naturally say,

“Well, anyway – the speed of light is around 700 miles an hour”.

The illusion was allowed to stand – Dad as the oracle and the font of knowledge. Very sweet, and rather lovely. I hope that illusion can be maintained a bit longer.

But then the boy looked up and said,

“OK. But how fast is that?

The peaceful Vosges

Posted 02 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos, Share, Travel

While we were in Alsace earlier this month, Anne-Sophie took us up into the Vosges mountains, where we spent a few hours clambering through a series of impeccably preserved, incredibly interesting, World War One trenches. It was quite an experience, although one that seemed to spark in all of us – except perhaps Anne So – a vague feeling that there was something important missing from our individual knowledge about the events of the Great War, or just a dissonance so huge between our lives and those lost then that punctured a hole in our capacity to imagine what it must have been like to have been living and fighting on the Front. We tend, here in Great Britain, to see the wars from a very British perspective, and unless my lack of awareness is atypical, we have a far more realistic sense of the travails of the Second World War than we do the first. We speculated, walking around, that much of people our age’s visualization of war in that environment comes not from books, nor even films, but rather from video games – although I’ve never played a war video game in my life, so I guess that’s not the case for me.

What did I feel? Mostly I think I just felt a sense of serenity, inspired by the stunning views and pin-perfect temperature, and a kind of placid fascination, which manifested itself in the kind of self-indulgent over-intellectualization you’ll find in these paragraphs. We talked a lot about how it must have felt, without really understanding. But once or twice, down in the cool dark chamber of a trench, I felt a glimmer of panic, a sense of the immensity of what was faced in that place. I need to read more about it. At times we stood at points where the French and German trenches were a matter of 20, 30 metres apart – a stunning contraction of distance in a vast landscape. Then, seeing a branch shiver in the wind or hearing the snapping of undergrowth, you could get something of that claustrophobic closeness – the notion of your enemy appearing suddenly before you.

Mostly we talked, paradoxically, about the near-century that has passed since. We speculated – in an uninformed kind of way – about how the forest would have slowly been repopulated with trees, about wildlife timidly returning to a landscape pockmarked with the echoes of gunfire. The incredible thought of a century of near-peace in a mostly unchanging landscape is quite something. It made us wonder, actually, if there might not be some potential in a book which was called something like ‘A Natural History of War in the Twentieth Century’ – a study of the impact of conflict on the natural world, on flora and fauna. Oddly I can’t find anything online that does that. We spent a lot of the weekend, actually, talking about bats, frogs, butterflies, the sound of cicadas. On the way down the mountain we passed a stationary deer, and it was – unsurprisingly – quite magical. We drove past and it stood alert in a pose which was simultaneously full of movement and perfectly still. Unmoving, and yet taut with the expectation of flight.

Here are a few photos from the afternoon.



First day in Marseilles

Posted 21 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos, Share, Travel

“You know”, I said to Lyndsey on Saturday afternoon, sat on the beach at Catalans, just along the coast from central Marseilles, “if I miraculously earn myself a decent pay rise at some point in the next few years, I’m not going to spend a penny of it on improving my day-to-day life. No upscaling the flat and paying more rent. No wardrobe renovation. No splurges at Resident Records. I’m not going to change a thing EXCEPT that I’ll use whatever the raise brings in to fund a sequence of citybreaks through the year”.

Could there be a better way of spending that money, after all? I think we all spend far too much of our time weighed down by domestic concerns, and where once I could put emotional distance between a week and a weekend, too often now I find one bleeding into another. A weekend away does wonders. Not just geographical distance but pyschological space.

We decided to go away for two nights quite late last week, and I’m very glad we did.

And glad we chose Marseilles, too. One doesn’t automatically equate the month of March with Mediterranean sun, so although the forecast was good I hesitated before plumping for a weekend in France’s southernmost city. But actually the weather was great, and Marseilles – so often characterised as Paris’s unruly, chaotic little brother – was simultaneously sumptuously beautiful and thrillingly edgy.

Our plane touched down around midday on Friday; and Marseilles airport is a funny little place. It’s not exactly tinpot, for it’s a major hub, but it’s all exposed wires and undecorated walls; steel barriers and customs sheds. The bus into the city immediately demonstrated that for all that Marseilles is a Mediterranean city, Southern France is a great deal more verdant than Spain or Portugal.

Yet the city itself is resplendently decked out in the colours of the Med; eggshell white, olive, mustard, cornflower and terracotta. It is immediately rather scruffier than Paris, and walking down from the Gare Saint-Charles it was hard not to notice – with not the least bit of discomfort – how few pink-white faces there were. Outside coffee shops and tea-houses groups of men sat pulling at cigarettes and tiny coffees, dressed in the uniforms of arab Marseilles; a moustache and a Fez for those over 40, a tracksuit for younger generations.

Turning down to Vieux-Port, all begins to change – the buildings smarten up and more and more white faces appear – but the general feel of Marseilles is integrated rather than segregated; it’s a lively city, ethnically, with huge numbers of Italians, Armenians, Algerians and Tunisians. Like most ports, it feels like a working city (despite the fact that it boasts the country’s highest unemployment), and we spent three days pretty much without hearing another English accent. The odd surly waitor aside – of course – I found the whole place exceptionally welcoming; blunter, warmer and a great deal more laidback than Paris.

Having traversed the Port, with its fleet of lovely white-sailed fishing boats, and wandered up into the stunningly picturesque streets of Le Panier – the historic district North of the harbour which Hitler dynamited, having declared it “a mass of criminals, under-humans and saboteurs” – we sat out on the balcony at La Caravelle (34 Quai du Port, 13002 Marseilles), a small bar at Hôtel de Ville: one of the few buildings in the area which – happily – Hitler spared. I knocked back a couple of small, strong lagers and nibbled on delicious olives while Lyndsey merrily embarked on a run of mohitos which would eventually take us from bar to bar and decimate our plans for an early start to our Saturday.

In Bar Marengo (21 Rue Saint Saëns, 13001 Marseille), an unadorned bar where little distraction is provided from the serious business of drinking, we topped up our glasses and tried out our French on the incredibly friendly barman. Lyndsey started each sentence hesitantly (“Bonsoir. Je voudrais une pression et un mohito”) before transitioning seamlessly into flirtatious Spanish.

Around the corner, in Polikarpov (24 Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, 13001 Marseilles) the bar-staff forgot to charge us for cocktails and danced heedlessly around to the Talking Heads (“realisant mon espoir / je me lance, vers la gloire”) while we held our empty glasses out towards them, pleadingly. Somewhere along the way we had decided it was too late to eat and simply resolved to order more cocktails.

The oldest Norman church in Sussex

Posted 09 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Daft, Observations, Share

Me, Ant and Dan went up to the South Downs at the weekend for a bit of film-making, a pub lunch and a scoot around Devil’s Dyke on Ant’s new moped. We mooched up there mid morning, with Brighton still in its winter doldrums – chilly and grey. By the time we got to Bramber castle, we were in the midst of what felt increasingly like Sussex’s first legitimate spring day; a kind of mellow haze resting over the landscape, breached and gradually dominated by a dazzling blue sky and, between gusts of chill wind, stabs of warmth. We sat on the ruined walls of the castle then strolled around St Nicholas’ chapel, a neat, Norman church dating back to 1073, and hovered by the porch chatting.

Then, up on the dyke, we struggled with Ant’s new moped, and I fell heroically from it into a patch of cold mud on my first and only spin. It was oddly invigorating, but perhaps only because no harm was done. I wiped my hands down on a grassy verge and studied my palms on the drive home, the caked mud exposing the complexity of principal lines, ridges and wrinkles. The view from Devil’s Dyke, lest you forget, is utterly dazzling, from the Clayton windmills to the cricket pitch at Poynings, from the fringes of Ashdown Forest to the hill fort at Chanctonbury Ring. But I like the view back home just as much, in different ways – Brighton glowing orange, nestling between the A27 and the sea.

Incidentally – I attended Pecha Kucha in Brighton on Saturday night, and heard for the first time of Pegasaurus books, which is a new publishing start up specialising in books by and for Sussex residents. They’ve only published a couple of books thus far, but they’ve published an Eco Guide to Sussex and an anthology of local poetry. I’ve not seen the actual books yet, but they might be worth a look. More info here.

Here are a couple of photos from the Dyke – blue sky and white.


Review; Submarine by Richard Ayoade

Posted 09 Dec 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews, Share

Richard Ayoade’s debut feature, Submarine, doesn’t get a general release ’til March 18th, but it premiered in the UK at Brighton’s Cinecity film festival last week, and you will doubtless hear much of it in the months leading up to its launch. This is partly, unavoidably, due to the high profile of its writer and director – the likeable Ayoade’s turns in The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh might not have turned him into a household name, but he is well known and highly thought of. His work behind the camera is less trumpeted, but he’s shot a number of fine music videos and his career highlight, in fact, might be his work as director of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

Submarine will surely be a big success. Everything is surely in place for it to be a hit. It has a star director, a series of great performances, is genuinely funny and is, technically, light years ahead of most UK attempts to crack the box-office. It’s wonderfully shot and crisply edited, well-cast and tightly scripted. And the theme is likely to resonate too; a young, bright, self-aware – but awkward, emotionally clumsy – teenage boy comes of age in a faintly timeless Welsh town. As a first feature, it’s sure-footed and well-judged.

What will also happen, however, is the reviews will tilt under the weight of references and comparisons. For better or for worse, deliberately or by accident, Ayoade has made a film which fits neatly into the genre of comedy mastered in recent years by a succession of independent film auteurs in movies like Rushmore, Juno, Napoloeon Dynamite and Son of Rambow. This is both a strength – they’re all fine films – and a weakness – like them, Submarine is literate, sardonic, nostalgic and – at times – a bit self-indulgent.

The Wes Anderson comparisons will flow freely. At times, Ayoade’s style, which is heavy on cinematic grammar, does indeed recall Anderson, although happily it’s Rushmore that Submarine reminds me of, not Anderson’s later, weaker work, and one could very easily argue that Ayoade is thematically and stylistically harking back further, to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate and Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude. It wasn’t Anderson, after all, who first hit on the idea of quirky, stylised comedy with folk-music soundtracks (Alex Turner, incidentally, drops the ball with his clumsy sounding musical accompaniement.)

Nevertheless, there are times when you wonder why, when Ayoade watched the rushes back, he didn’t think to himself, “if I took out all the bits that are going to really remind people of Wes Anderson, I’d still have a pretty great film”. He left them in, no doubt, because there is a confluence of style and theme which is a happy and genuine co-incidence. But the whimsy is cosmetic – in other words it spices up the visuals but adds nothing to the story – and I for one have had enough of this celluloid twee-ness. It bit into my enjoyment of an otherwise super film.

But let’s give it some deserved praise. First, the cinematography is gorgeous. Ayoade repeatedly returns to the huge expanses of sky around Cardiff, and the lingering landscapes are intensely memorable. He’s also found a couple of great leads – the youngsters, Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts perform with confidence and style, while the adult cast perform with such evident pleasure that one almost feels short-changed that they only have supporting roles. It’s hard to think of a couple of better performances in a comedy film than Noah Taylor’s Lloyd Tate and Sally Hawkin’s wonderful portrayal of his wife, Jill. Meanwhile, overacting gleefully, Paddy Considine has tremendous fun, as he always seems to.

And most importantly, despite the irritating and sometimes arch narration, Ayoade makes a serious attempt to inject emotion into proceedings, something that Wes Anderson never seems to bother with. It’s only sporadically successful (there’s still a layer of irony that impedes empathy) but the attempt alone sets the film apart from many of the titles it will be compared to. This that bodes most well for its youthful director. There’s absolutely enough to suggest, here, that Ayoade could go on to be a really super film-maker. It does sometimes become necessary, however, to carve out one’s own approach, and just now you feel there’s too many nods at other movies and not quite enough pushing ahead alone.

After the premiere, Noah Taylor – exquisite as Oliver’s dad – stayed behind to talk about the film (which he had just seen for the first time), his career to date and cinema in general. It was absorbing stuff – and luckily I taped it. So if you’re interested in hearing a bit more about the film, you can catch up below. The talk is, I think, spoiler free.

Noah Taylor talks about Richard Ayoade’s ‘Submarine’, Brighton, Dec 2010 by assistantblog

The Union Music Store, Lewes

Posted 07 Dec 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Share

I’m not quite sure what I’d do if I lived in a city without a decent record shop. Move to one, probably, or else spend a lot of time on trains shuttling back and forth with armfuls of vinyl. I could handle living somewhere like Lewes, which is rather beautiful and – more importantly – less than half an hour from Resident Records. And I could live there happy, now, in the knowledge that there would be somewhere even closer.

Opened by Jamie and Stevie Freeman in the middle of November, just between the main drag and the station, on Lansdown Place, Union Music Store is Lewes’s newest, and possibly loveliest independent store. Catering for lovers of folk, country and Americana (whatever that third genre is – country for people who won’t admit what they’re listening to, presumably), the phrase ‘labour-of-love’ could have been invented solely for the purpose of describing what Jamie and Stevie are trying to do. The shop is small, bright, sparsely stocked (for now) but full of lovely objects and good intentions, from the air of sincere friendliness they exude, to the crates of used vinyl and the local music section, from the little raised performance platform to the beautifully honed merchandise they sell (everything from branded plectrums and t-shirts to Ariat Daisy cowgirl boots).

It’s plainly early days, but they’re doing a lovely job; to gain my undying affection, they need to expand the new vinyl section a bit and iron out a few pricing issues (£25.49 for the last Phosporescent record, vs £11.99 at Boomkat*), but they’re well on the way with their adorable shop dog, Lilly, and they might turn out to be the best place in the area for cosy instore performances. Me and Lyndsey watched a great performance from Lee Tucknott, a Brighton musician who records as ‘The Sea Will Decide’, on Saturday afternoon.

Here’s Lee playing ‘America’ instore.

Make sure you visit the shop, and spend some money there, next time you’re in Lewes. And if you liked Lee’s performance, his EP is on sale there for a mere fiver, and you can find out more about him at his website.

Can’t wait to visit the store again.

*No criticism implied; I know it’s hard finding good prices when you’re a small business. For the record, some other releases – such as the excellent new Robert Plant LP – were much more reasonably priced.

On Salt Lake City

Posted 12 Nov 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Share, Travel

I like arriving in cities in darkness. My plane touched down in Salt Lake City on Saturday evening, too late to see anything from the aeroplane window bar the anonymous smattering of lights that designate homes, roads, hotels; lights that could belong to any city in the world. In my taxi, the driver was at pains to reassure me, as we travelled the few short miles from SLC International to downtown, that I needn’t worry about the city’s conservative, Mormon background. A lot has changed round here lately, he says – it’s a modern, liberal city. (Later, I’ll discover that to cross a road in Salt Lake, you have to pluck an orange flag from a bucket on the sidewalk and charge out, waving it).

All around you, in the morning, he said, you’ll see the mountains. If I’d arrived a day later, actually, he’d have been wrong, so shrouded was the city at the start of the week with mist and snow, but on the morning after my arrival, Sunday, I sprang out of bed towards the window, and swept the heavy curtains back to see a sight that couldn’t be further removed from the gentle slope of the Sussex Downs I see from my bedroom window back in Brighton.

Salt Lake is not a big city. Like a lot of places in the US, it’s sprawling – wide and flat (but for the hotels, which rise up in the horizon, formulaic and ugly) – but it’s open and navigable, and necessarily limited in size by the mountains that surround it. It’s sat in a basin, around 4500 ft up – really high in the scheme of things and easily enough to feel more out of breath than normal after running to catch a tram – and squashed between two ranges. The Wasatch on the right hand side; a jagged run of enormous slate grey peaks, capped with snow, and the Oquirrh mountains on the left; lower, flatter, earth-brown. To see them towering over the city is really quite a sight.

There’s nothing conventionally beautiful about the Downtown area itself. Built by the Mormons, back when they saw it as the future epicentre of what would eventually be an all-conquering faith, it’s designed on a rigid grid system radiating out from the temple, with the roads so wide they seem to occupy roughly 50% of the surface area of the city. Most of the buildings are functional rather than extravagant, with many tipping over into the straightforwardly ugly.

But it’s evocative of a kind of America with which I feel somehow familiar, despite having never been anywhere like it before. It’s simultaneously the America of the Mountain West, on the edge of the Rockies, and a kind of window into everytown America, the America of the middle. It feels resolutely typical, ordinary, lacking the bustle and pace of places in the US I’ve been before. A look at the films shot here is quite instructive – mainstream, suburban stuff like Dumb and Dumber, High School Musical, the Halloween sequels. It’s not metropolitan, urbane, well-off. But nor is it rural, down-at-heel or impoverished. It’s everyday America, and a million miles from Europe.

Perhaps if I lived here I’d find it maddening, the closed-off-ness, the scale, but as a visitor, as someone who can’t help getting excited about his travels and the weird, amazing, wonderful differences from place to place – I absolutely love it here.

Here are some shots taken downtown, just off to the right of all the ugly hotel buildings.

Review; Lou Donaldson live in the Village

Posted 11 Nov 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Share, Travel

Wow, on my last night in New York City I did something I’ve meant to do for some time but never quite got round to, mainly because I’ve never quite known where to start, wanting to take in some proper NY jazz, but not wanting to do it in some aneasthetised tourist spot, paying an arm and a leg for the pleasure. Once or twice I’ve nearly gone to some heavily advertised jazz club, but never felt it was the right option. On Friday, having gone for a couple of drinks in the Village after work, I set off back towards my hotel at about eight o’clock, intent on giving up my last night for some well deserved rest – an early night.

Walking back towards where I thought the subway station was, I passed under a delapidated red awning. Glancing up I read the venue’s name. ‘The Village Vanguard’. It was a name I vaguely recognised, but I thought nothing more of it and kept walking. I must have walked another couple of hundred yards before I realised I was headed in the wrong direction. I turned around and retraced my steps. This time, as I passed the venue, I glanced absent-mindedly towards the doorway, and a sign stopped me in my tracks. Hand written in marker pen on a piece of white paper: Lou Donaldson.

I’m a long way from being a jazz specialist, but I know that name well. Donaldson is one of jazz’s greatest alto saxophonists. A student of Charlie Parker’s, his soulful, populist Blue Note jazz puts him up amongst the absolute masters of his art, even if fashion moved away from him (the good humoured octagenarian cheerfully derides ‘fusion and con-fusion’ from the stage). The opportunity to see him live, in exactly the sort of small, run-down, bohemian venue I always imagined hearing jazz was obviously too good to miss.

I opened the doors and went in, clambering down the stairway to a small, bustling room, carpeted in red with photos of jazz heroes covering the walls. Tickets were $30. I held out three notes and smiled excitedly at the guy on the door.

“Do you have a ticket?”, he asked. I shook my head. He shook his head. Damn.

But not all hope was lost; if I headed up to the awning, he explained, there was a reserve queue. If I waited there, they’d let me in in an hour if the place wasn’t full. Ugh. I headed upstairs. There were already eight or nine people stood at the awning. I weighed up my options, and stretched my fingers experimentally in the cold Manhatten air. It might be a long wait. I decided to stick it out.

About 40 minutes later, starving, very cold and desperate for the loo, I began feeling a bit negative about things – not least because a steady stream of people, clutching tickets, were heading through the door. The reserve queue was up to about 15 people. Suddenly, a man – broad shouldered and shaven-headed – veered towards me. I stepped back, hoping to avoid an exchange. He said something about a ticket. I wasn’t sure if I heard right. Happily, he repeated it.

“You want a free ticket buddy?”, he asked.

As the guy placed a ticket in my hand, explaining that someone he’d been supposed to be bringing had dropped out, I grinned and thanked him. To my right, someone said – in a tone of voice which suggested they weren’t entirely pleased for me – “you got lucky”.

I certainly did. Five minutes later I was sat downstairs watching Lou Donaldson and his band take to the strange. Donaldson is relatively frail, as one might expect of his advanced years, but his playing is just magnificent, and his range, tone and power is completely undiminished. He’s also a born entertainer, whipping the crowd up with jokes and anecdotes, every inch the performer. He brought a physical, crowd-pleasing quality to jazz which I don’t think I knew existed – this wasn’t cerebral, although it was undoubtedly complex. This paradox is, I think, what I get out of jazz. Compared to many of his peers, Donaldson is conservative by nature – he even has a pop at Miles Davis for ‘stopping playing jazz’ at one point, but it’s truly remarkable that within his populist boundaries he still creates sounds so dazzlingly inventive and unorthadox. On several occasions his playing reduced the audience to open-mouthed expressions of wonder. The applause he received after each solo was as warm as it was awed.

At the best moments, I think I captured something of the experience of jazz which I was craving – something rich, physical, incredibly harmonious and welcoming. Thank god I was given that ticket. On a few occasions I glanced over to the bar, where I spotted my benefactor. Of every person in the club, he seemed the most enthusiastic; dancing ecstatically on his bar stool and hollaring his approval. THANKS.

Here’s the last three or four minutes or so of Donaldson’s set – a nice rich recording too; my Zoom H1 always picks up brass instruments really well.

Field Recording, Trafalgar St, Brighton

Posted 08 Nov 2010 — by Dan
Category General, Share

One of the reasons I’ve got interested in field recordings recently is the transformative nature of recording everyday sounds. Robbed of their context, sounds seem to change. Here, the sound of a busker playing his guitar under the Trafalgar Street / Brighton Station tunnel blends with the sound of passing cars. Maybe it’s an imagined hoot of seagulls that gives it a seaside air, but to me listening back the cars are not cars, but waves, and there is something liquid about the dolorous music, making the whole thing more beautiful than the sum of its parts. I recorded this late in September, crouched over my recorder, worrying about wind interfering with the sound quality.

Listen!

Doppelgänger

Posted 02 Nov 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Share

Peter?

I hear the name twice, in the airport lounge, before I look up, not stirring because it is not my name.

A man is stood in front of me and the look he gives me as he says the name again is uncertain, although I do not know if that is because he doubts my identity or can not fathom why I won’t acknowledge it.

For some reason I find it hard to know what to say. Peter is my father’s name. “No”, I say at last, aware this is unsatisfactory, that it sounds more like a denial than a statement of fact.

He apologises for his mistake, backing away flustered, but I can see from his face that he is confused, and I know then that I have a doppelgänger.

Booth Museum of Natural History

Posted 05 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Art, General, Observations, Share

I’ve lived in Brighton, on and off, for well over a decade, and I don’t think there are many Brighton landmarks I’ve not visited – I may not spend much time treading the pier, but I’m fond of traipsing round the Pavilion or the city’s two major Museums, and know them well. I’m horrified, however, to admit that it took me this long to get to the Booth Museum of Natural History, on Dyke Road. Me and Lynds went to celebrate her birthday last month, and we both absolutely loved it – stuffed birds, moths pinned to cardboard, and lots of skeletons.

The museum was founded in 1874 by Edward Thomas Booth, who built his collection in the grounds of his own home – Bleak House. Consisting largely of stuffed birds, the collection was opened to the public in 1890 on Booth’s death, though “on the express instruction that they [the council] would not alter the interior of the cases, and that they would take the same care of them as he had hitherto done”.

His insistence on the interior of the cases being untouched was important. In the Victorian era both ornithology and taxidermy were by no means uncommon pursuits. But Booth’s idea of displaying the birds in dioramas which mimicked their natural landscapes was genuinely innovative and, at the time, seen as somewhat eccentric. The cases are lovingly presented, if macabre. At times one can almost see a hint of movement in the carefully wrought poses. Like all good animal exhibits, there is a tangible threat of life in the displays.

As we were leaving, we made our way back to the front of the museum, where the security guard and the guy on the information desk sat chatting and comparing videos on each others’ mobile phones. As we approached, from behind, they were laughing joyfully at something – long, high pitched, hyena laughs. I inched around the side and glanced over at the phone; they were watching a video of a cat tottering around the edge of a toilet seat before plummeting, inevitably, into the water. Sometimes movement can’t be beaten.

Not much life in these chaps. But imagine.

Angels of New York

Posted 21 Jun 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Photos, Share

There’s something about my enthusiasm for Anthony Gormley that isn’t intellectual or aesthetic at all – it’s a learned feeling which I think I must have developed as a teenager, visiting the North East; the the birthplace of my parents. Gormley’s Angel of the North arrived at the right time for me; a work of art I instinctively got; something big and impressive – meaningful, political and wistful simultaneously. My dad explained how it was important that it paid tribute to the industrial heritage of the North East, but most of all it felt important – at a time when it was particularly fashionable to decry modern art – that the people of Gateshead and Newcastle so enthusiastically welcomed it. Geordies know the value of local pride and the value of loyalty, so they quickly wrapped the Angel in an Alan Shearer shirt.

So I’ve always had time for Gormley – the same way I do for Newcastle United. I want him/them to do well. And he does good work consistently – even if he’s repeated himself and pursued a vision so doggedly it’s become over-familiar, I think he understands public art better than most, and instinctively makes art human, which is innately valuable. Event Horizon, a touring exhibit made up of life-size, cast iron and fibreglass models of his own body, is a brilliant example of what he does best. Having missed it in London, and never seen the comparable Another Place in Merseyside, I was really excited about seeing the figures – placed discreetly or imposingly, high or low – in Madison Square when I visited New York last month.

So I wasn’t surprised at the extent to which I loved the piece. Although they are wonderfully still, the statues inspire constant interaction, whether in a tactile sense at ground level, or, most excitingly up high, where one must strain one’s vision, scan the horizon in search of them. At first, I sought them out keenly, searching the tall buildings for the figures, and then began, in a more leisurely way, to slowly examine the skyline, to see parts of the city I’d otherwise surely ignore. The men themselves – they seem far more real than statues – are startling. Grounded, they are like silent sentries, motionless amongst the hubbub of the city. They attract people to them, who stop and stare. They reach for their cameras, or reach out a hand to cup an iron shoulder blade or, inevitably, laughing, the moulded genitalia.

Raised from street level, their stillness, and their proximity to the edge at such grand heights, is nerve-wracking. They seem poised to jump, and no amount of reasoning entirely dispels the frisson of concern their positioning provokes. It’s funny how hard it is to unlearn the lessons we’ve all been taught. Stand back from the edge. With each sighting I felt a ripple of unease. But the unease is tempered by excitement at seeing a new relationship of sorts between a city and a human form. From what I could tell, others seemed to feel the same way. Gormley has created a really fascinating, involving, thought provoking work. I hope it moves on somewhere where it can alter another familiar landscape is another, unfamiliar, way.

The joy of toys

Posted 16 May 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Share

I might compile a list of the places in Brighton that I feel ashamed of having never visited, and just get them all done. It’s utterly ludicrous that I could have lived here all those years and never, until Friday, visited the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, which is an absolute treasure trove of joy and pseudo-nostalgia. Not only was the Muesum, as part of the Festival season, open late specially, but the marvellous 0 and 00 guage train set was up and running.

Me, Sam and Dan circled it hungrily, wanting to reach out and touch, while Laura looked tolerantly on and scribbled in her notebook. I like the furniture best, I decided, the level crossings, roadsigns and brick red pillar boxes. Through one window I admire a model landscape more reverently than I do the rolling downs on my daily commute.

I hear Sam talking loudly. He and Dan have stopped by a cabinet containing a model helicoper. “Why does it have twin rotor blades?”, Dan is wondering. And Sam is off. “Well actually”, he says, “the vast majority of Soviet helicopters had twin rotors. The second was introduced to counteract the effects of torque on the single blade…”. I can’t bear it. I don’t care if Sam is right or not. I denounce him as a bullshitter, loudly. Behind him a couple of children, who were listening attentively, look disappointed. Sam is now a pariah in their eyes.

They eye him angrily.

Our enthusiasm for the toys is not infectious. After a while – when we’re on our third lap of the exhibits – Laura announces that she’s going to head off and leave us to it. She does. The men are left to their toys. We grin at each other.

“Pub?”, we muse.

“Pub”, we agree.

77 Million Paintings

Posted 03 May 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General, Reviews, Share

We’d all appreciate our home-towns a lot more if we had guests to visit more often. I almost always have my most pleasurable weekends in Brighton when people from elsewhere come to visit. It makes me wonder at all the weekends I spend listlessly – having no-one to impress – instead of taking advantage of the fact that I live in this lovely place

Of course, at this time of year – the Brighton Festival has just started – I’m normally starting to get a little busier (and there are a bunch of local things happening over the next month or so which I’ll hopefully be blogging about), but my nice weekend over this Bank Holiday was less a consequence of that and more prompted by the arrival in town of friends. So I spent Saturday having a lovely lunch in the Dorset in the North Laine and relaxing down by the beach, and most of Sunday mooching around Town buying records, doing Festival stuff and sitting in the pub, pretending I’d been stabbed through the neck with a plastic straw (long story).

The highlight – well, the cultural highlight – was a trip to Brighton’s lovely Fabrica gallery, which for the duration of the Festival is hosting an exhibition by the season’s curator, Brian Eno. Rather misleadingly titled ’77 Million Paintings’, the show actually focuses on one piece – a large, evolving graphic up on a large screen at the far end of the dark church.

The same aesthetic which drives much of Eno’s music is apparent in the work; it is neither instantly rewarding nor demanding, but instead a kind of slow, transformative experience for which the term ‘ambient’ (traditionally used to characterise much of Eno’s music) remains the best descriptive term I can conjure up.

It’s essentially a series of locked geometric shapes which move through a range of patterns and colours in a sequence determined by ‘generative software’ which is capable – as the title of the piece suggests – of 77 million possible permutations (which would take, apparently, over a thousand years to unfold). The transformations are slow but remarkably evocative.

Sat concentrating for ten minutes I was only dimly aware of perceptible changes, but when a conversation with Deb and Will distracted me from the screen for no more than sixty seconds and I returned my gaze to the ‘painting’, I found it had changed hugely. Such is the effect of the slow process of gradual change – I thought of the face of someone you love and see every day, which seems unchanging, and the shock of encountering friends with whom you’ve lost touch, and who you find much altered (as altered, presumably, as you are).

It’s hard to describe a work of art without showing it, and pointless to show a still of a work of art without being able to demonstrate the very movement which gives it purpose. So here’s a proposal, instead.

Imagine yourself sat in a church, half-dozing, glancing down at the cobbled floor. As the sun progresses slowly across the sky outside, light catches panes of the stained glass windows high above, and casts a reflection down on the floor in front of you. The light shimmers and shines, ducks behind a cloud, comes up for air. The quality of light changes, and different parts of the window are alternately obscured and revealed. What plays out on the floor in front of you is the combination of chance, nature and design, and it is playing only for you.

If you can imagine that, you might be able to picture Eno’s work. If you like the sound of it, the exhibition is running until the 23rd May.

Co-incidentally, I spent much of the time in the Church sharing a seat with Toby, a mischievous toddler who ultimately ordered me onto the floor so he’d have more space. He told me – and I trust his opinion – that the exhibition was ‘lovely’. He also made me take his socks off and at one point handed his Dad an empty food wrapper and yelled ‘rubbish, rubbish’.

I hope Mr. Eno wasn’t around, mistaking him for a high-voiced critic.

Discovering Chinatown

Posted 19 Apr 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Photos, Share, Travel

As I think I’ve said before, the joy of passing from one district to the next in New York is the rich, seamless transition from one predominant culture, one predominant attitude, into another. Probably I’m seeing that through rose-tinted spectacles, as a tourist – not appreciating that for some the transition is far less painful. It’s probably so for the locals of South Bronx who see wealthy artists moving in and raising the rents, or for Italian families in Little Italy who can’t help but notice that as Chinatown grows, so their community contracts. It was doubtless once so for the many families in Tribeca, Nolita and Williamsburg that have had to move on as property prices have soared. Nevertheless, to the tourist, the endless variety of communities one ecounters in the city is remarkable.

Of all of them, Chinatown is probably the easiest to locate and get to grips with, and yet equally perhaps the hardest to interact with. It’s been a constant on my trips to NY, somewhere I’ve always gone, and somewhere I’ve always been at my most touristy – taking photos, peering at food stalls, always walking, never stopping to really take in what I’m experiencing. The Canal St area is such a bustling, fast-paced neighbourhood. But last week, on the final day of my first stint in the city, I strolled South of Canal St towards the Financial District and, appreciative of the blazing sun, found myself taking a break in Columbus Park. It was just as busy as everwhere else in Chinatown, but the provision of benches, and grass upon which to sit, gave me an opportunity for a breather and gave me, in turn, one of my happiest travel moments. Having weaved through the crowds, and admired the many, complex board games being played by the locals, I found a seat and watched a traditional Chinese band set up their instruments and pass around reams of sheet music.

It would be very easy to accuse me of cultural tourism – only engaging with something if I encounter it packaged up and prettified in an outdoor space, and I’m consious too that claiming to love a style of music so far removed from the Western tradition makes me sound positively pretentious. But sat in the sun, watching groups interact, games unfold and listening to cascades of strange, beautiful notes and thunder-clap cymbals, I felt like I was experiencing a moment of real beauty, and marvelled at the sound of the songs I heard. Very short clip, below.