Posts Tagged ‘friends’

No Direction Home, festival review

Posted 11 Jun 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Observations, Reviews

Just back from No Direction Home, a lovely three day festival in Sherwood Forest – and feeling oddly invigorated rather than knackered, which is unusual after a festival – and seems particularly counterintuitive when you consider that this festival took place in a weekend during which Britain was so thoroughly soaked that it was almost lost to the sea.

Oddly, however, the Welbeck Estate stayed pretty much dry, and by a miraculous quirk of fortune I managed to pitch our tent on a bit of even ground. Consequently we stayed dry, slept well, drank with something approaching moderation, and ate regularly and expensively at the many excellent food stalls. So I’m not dead, but rather buzzing with excitement after a few utterly idyllic days and a bunch of awesome bands.

A potted set of highlights and observations, then:

- First, what an amazing site. Compared to End of the Road at the Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset, the festival is significantly more compact and even rather prettier; it’s a less fenced-in site, making it easier and more rewarding to wander off, and the lakeside setting and accompanying wildlife (skylarks, swifts, martins and owls) were so beautiful and rewarding that it was frequently more tempting to grab a pint of Welbeck Abbey Red Feather and sit by the water, than it was to watch another band.

- Second, once again, the on-site amenities were perfect. Three small stages, with the performance times perfectly scheduled, making it almost possible to catch every single band on the bill; a beautiful comedy and literature yurt; and an absolutely charming pop-up cinema (where we watched ‘Some Like It Hot’ in preference to catching Dirty Three, and where Woodpigeon provided a lovely score to Charlie Chaplin’s surprisingly angry ‘Modern Times’ – which made up for a slightly underwhelming solo set from their Mark Hamilton earlier in the day). Besides all that there were bookshops, vintage clothes stores, a branch of Rough Trade and tons of great places to eat. Perfectly judged.

- When buying my ticket a few months back I half-wondered if I hadn’t had my fill of folk-bands; I’ve seen a lot over the last few years and the bands that jumped out at me on the bill were at the rockier end; Mikal Cronin, The Wave Pictures and Veronica Falls. But actually the line-up worked perfectly; folk, a smattering of electronica, a few big guitars, some amazing new bands and a few unique performances (in particular, The Unthanks‘ extraordinary link up with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band, which saw them further mining their interest in northern cultural history and the poetry of the pits).

- Who was good then? New stuff is always most exciting, I think, so I had a brilliant time watching a few bands new to me. Laura J Martin stood out as being incredible playful and adventurous, taking as her starting point some post-Kate Bush warbling but adding clattering drums, mandolin, and layer upon layer of sampled flutes. It was an extraordinary, slightly surreal experience watching her construct explosive little symphonies from the most unlikely of components. She stood cheerfully signing CDs afterwards, clearly delighted at having delighted so many.

Rachael Dadd was similarly great; dangerously close to conforming to twee-folk stereotypes at first glance, but standing out because her interests and approach (which incorporate steel drums played by her husband Ichi) naturally draw even the most sceptical of audience members in. Her abiding interest seems to be Japanese culture, gleefully drawing on a distant society, and, by the end, she was populating an entire song with the recipe for Oni Guri, and beguiling everyone in the process.

Also really liked Seamus Fogarty, who summoned up aspects of traditional folk music, US troubadours like Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt and his label-mates at Fence to provide good-hearted, quiet and sometimes funny ruminations on life. I was very taken with some of his lines, not least “I woke up in Chicago early on Christmas morn / with a woman who worked as a spy”, which is as lovely a set up to a song as you’ll hear.

And best of all the new artists I saw was Nat Johnson & The Figureheads, who played a pitch-perfect set of harmonious indie rock, recalling ‘Stories of the City’ era PJ Harvey and The Long Blondes, while every now and again invoking gloriously fuzzy Pavement-esque guitar riffs. They were poised, energetic, blessed with song after song, and deserve to sell lots of records.

- Saw some great stuff in the literature and comedy yurt too; Jon Ronson gave a characteristically charming reading of his Psychopath Test stuff, as well as casting further comedic light on the (surely unarguable) case for AA Gill’s criminal insanity. Mick Jackson, whose novel ‘The Underground Man’ had a seismic impact on me when I first read it in 1997, talked about the book, which was set at the Welbeck Estate, and he cast light on the network of underground tunnels which snaked through the ground beneath us. The only real disappointment was a very uncomfortable, boorish appearance by a drunk Josie Long (who I normally love) and a humourless friend, who performed an extended karaoke set prior to Robin Ince’s book club, which managed to do the impossible (make a Herman Dune song sound unwelcome) and eventually drive us out into the night, perplexed by the laddishness, excessive volume, affection for Weezer and, most pressingly, her co-host’s inept rape joke, which tipped the balance for us. Very depressing – but out of character, I think.

- More happily, we saw some superb performances from the regular suspects; from The Wave Pictures, Beth Jeans Houghton, Django Django, Spectrals, Martin Carthy and Euros Childs (who lucked out with the first real sun of the weekend setting over his glorious psych-pop). Two performances really stood out; Josh Tillman, playing as Father John Misty, played a ludicrously confident, charismatic set of acoustic country-pop. Slightly camp, very hilarious and deeply handsome, he could have left with anyone in the audience, I suspect. David Thomas Broughton was similarly engaging, if not quite so bloody sexy, but he once again captivated the crowd with a performance as funny as it was gifted, as troubling as it was proficient. Very impressed, as always. He’s one of pop’s more interesting, evocative lyricists.

- Hard not to mention beer. The End of The Road organisers are always scrupulous in sourcing decent ale for their festivals and, despite a tendency to under-order in terms of quantity, they did a great job here. My favourites were the afore-mentioned Red Feather, a very nutty session beer brewed on the premises, and the Bradfield Farmers Blonde, a very pale and floral beer. Of the various bars on site, the Boathouse gets the thumbs-up from me by virtue of their insanely friendly staff and habit of shouting ‘Tip Tip Hooray’ every time they get a tip. Ever eager to please, I think I tipped them about eight quid over the course of the weekend. Lots of hoorays.

- Two more artists who seemed to effortlessly personify the No Direction Home vibe were also on grand form. Liz Green’s talent is palpably natural – she has an effortlessly perfect voice, a wry and arch writing style and can even, it turns out, play a mean trumpet solo without a trumpet (seriously; close your eyes and you’ll hear brass – open them and you’ll see her trying not to laugh while she parps merrily out of the side of her mouth… if you’ll forgive the image). She also works with a band capable of adding texture to her songs with the most glorious instrumentation. The combination of Green’s jazz vocal, a be-turbaned sax player and a double bassist in a tweed jacket and adidias short might put some off; but it would be a hasty judgement. Great stuff. Trembling Bells, meanwhile, are a rather old-fashioned folk group, taking their lead from 60s and 70s British folk-rock, but live they’re forceful, immediate and somehow very modern – this is folk music a very long way from pastiche. Instead they deal in heavy, detailed, free-form visionary music. Unexpectedly they were perhaps the loudest band I saw all weekend.

- …with the exception of Mikal Cronin, who closed the festival. Wow, these guys are good. After lots of ruminative, esoteric folk and pop, the decision to employ Cronin’s band to blow away the cobwebs was masterful. Their music is super-powerful; skewed, loose indie rock twinned with blasts of urgent psych-garage. Watching their delightful, cleansing set was a bit like being placed in front of a massive, nuclear-powered fan. Great great fun. And the joyfulness of their vibrant indie rock seemed to energise a flagging crowd, who yelled jokes and sparred with the band between songs. At one point, while they were tuning up, a moth flew on stage and was briefly illuminated in Cronin’s spotlight. “A moth! A moth!” the crowd gleefully yelled. The band, who had previously boasted of their acid intake, looked bemused.

- Lastly it would be remiss not to share another couple of key ingredients of a super weekend; first off, as always, a festival is a million times better when you’re there with people you love (and I was) and always a winner when every single person you come across, whether staff, performers or audience, seems to share that same expression of delight, good cheer and peacefulness.

So a hearty congratulations to the organisers for putting together a seriously brilliant festival. Will be there next year.

If I’ve missed anything above, do leave a comment below.



Sparrow; beautiful

Posted 05 Apr 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Brighton’s excellent Sparrow will be releasing their new LP in a few weeks (on May 20) – it’s called ‘However did the wolf get in’ and this is the first single from it – ‘Beautiful’. How good is the opening shot of Marina? Excellent.

A song a week #48 (Focus On Things)

Posted 02 Dec 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Oh look, here’s Sam on lead vocals, with Dan and AS on back up. Sort of.

I put together this music slowly, over the course of the year, looking for an opportunity (or the courage) to do a rap over it, and eventually chickened out. But over the course of the year I’ve swapped lots of voice messages with Sam, who’s over in Paris, so I thought I’d put some of those rambling messages to use.

Most of our musings and conversations over the year have related to various projects we’re undertaking, and our shared need to focus on things. So there’s our chorus.

A song a week #44 (Jackdaw)

Posted 04 Nov 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Observations, Weekly Song

I try to write a bit about each song I do here, but sometimes other things seem more relevant. This is a nice enough song, I think, but the moment I paired it with the images below, filmed by Dan the morning after our friends Ali and James got married, it meaning got lost a bit. So instead of rattling on about the song, I’ll just mention what a glorious day we had with our friends, and how nice it was wondering through the fields and orchard the next morning.

A song a week #43 (Drowning Song)

Posted 28 Oct 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Very early this year I asked my friend Pete if he’d be interested in helping me write a song, and he immediately sent through some guitar stuff for me to work with. Almost immediately I was struck with paralysis and the files sat on my hard-drive untouched for about six months. Pete is one of the best friends I’ve ever had and the co-architect of some of the happiest afternoons and evenings of my life, playing with my band, so working together on a song meant a lot and I wanted to get it right. Eventually I dug the files out and worked them up into something that I’m very happy with, sounding, as it does, very like the kind of song which me, Pete, Andy and Ali wrote in the early 2000s. So of all the songs I’ve worked on this year, this is probably the most important to me.

Bond and Wallington

Posted 27 Sep 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

This Saturday me and Lynds went to visit friends in Wallington. We were talking, actually, on the train, about whether we’d like to live in London in the future, and I explained that while I’m happier in a smaller town, like Brighton, I feel like I have unfinished business in London, which is where I grew up. And that unfinished business is really nothing more than a growing feeling that I am losing touch with the city of my birth. When I left London for the last time, over a decade ago, I felt tired of the capital and broadly like I’d done everything there which I needed to. While one can always find new things in a city the size of London, my level of curiosity had declined, and I felt (probably wrongly) that I had the measure of it.

What I don’t like, now, is visiting places I remember from my teenage years and finding them either much changed or better/worse than I recalled them. Or someone asking me about a part of the city of which I know nothing. As a Londoner, I feel entitled to tell people about the city, to act like I know it innately, and the part of me which would like to live there again is not much besides the part of me which wants to map it again, conquer it, make it my neighbourhood once more. Which isn’t much reason to move.

Wallington’s a good example. Until the weekend, I’d never heard of it. It bothers me to be out of touch with geography. Although as it turns out, Wallington is right out of the way; in a part of the country which would properly be called Surrey had London not got so big for its boots, and so big. On the way I looked it up on my phone. Here are the three things I learned.

- Wallington was the centre of lavender oil production until the first world war. The plant still grows freely around the area. Lynds works for the Body Shop, so I made some hilarious jokes about her day out being a busman’s holiday.
- Zammo, the much-loved smack addict from Grange Hill, has a key-cutting shop in Wallington. This is amazing. It’s called Mentor Lock and Safe.
- I like the idea of rivers in London that aren’t the Thames. The River Wandle runs through Wallington.

We met up with Steve and Doro and inspected their house, which is new and lovely. We ate lunch, and sat down to watch a Bond film (Steve is your man if you like Bond films). Shortly before we started, someone (it may have been me) suggested we have a drink everytime Bond’s name is spoken. Or he makes a quip. Or uses a gadget. Or someone dies.

I don’t think we realised quite how disastrous this decision was ’til about 8 o’clock, when we realised the extent of our folly. Turns out quite a lot of people die at the end of Live and Let Die. And James Bond never bloody shuts up with the quips. I quietly resolved not to make so many stupid jokes in the future. And never to drink again. But actually, as it turned out, we were so insensible that only bed made sense, and after a long sleep I felt curiously fine the next day. Miracle.

Missing articles, continued chaos

Posted 29 Aug 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

OK, so I’m currently preparing for this year’s End of The Road festival. Last night two things happened; first, around ten o’clock, the lights blew. Normally it’s just a case of flicking up the trip switch but on this occasion that didn’t work – every light in my flat had gone, with not much prospect of a remedy this side of the bank holiday. Minutes later, sitting in the dark, the second thing happened; Lynds said,

“Do you know where your End of The Road ticket is?”.

Now, obviously, I didn’t. At any time of day or night this would be a question destined to send me into a spin, scouring my flat for a rectangular piece of paper which might be anywhere. At 10.30pm in a flat entirely starved of artificial light, it was a disaster. After 45 minutes of scrabbling around with a tea light, I concluded, grimly, that “No, I don’t know where the fucking ticket is”. But at least I’d be able to find it the next morning.

So guess what? I started looking at half past eight this morning and by twelve had all but concluded that hope was lost. The End of The Road is not only the best festival in the UK, it’s run by inordinately lovely people, but that counts for little as they grimly inform you that ‘duplicate tickets will not be issued in the event of tickets being lost or damaged’. So, increasingly desperate, I turned over the flat, cursed my chaotic lifestyle, lay on the floor. The Cat, who is in temporary residence at my house, became tremendously excited by my breakdown, leaping into every cardboard box I began to empty and attacking the furniture with delirious gusto. Lyndsey, with a nervous smile on her face, edged to the door.

A few hours later I had scoured the web for expensive replacements, sworn to change my life completely and, at last, found the missing ticket. Down the side of the bed. So it seems that I am going to the End Of The Road after all.

I’m so happy. And such an idiot.

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.

A song a week #21 (Lightbulb Eyes)

Posted 31 May 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant

Making a video a week is significantly less arduous than writing and recording a song a week, but it still takes time. For that reason I try to maintain a library of video clips I can use, but occasionally that footage runs out and it means I have to create something from scratch. This weekend I was lucky enought to have some help from Dan, who helped me pull together the idea of an imitation steady cam vid, where I lodged a tripod against my stomach and marched along the beach, singing my song loudly and attracting attention from tutting strangers. So this week’s song – which is about monsters – comes with a rather cool video.

Video, lyrics and chords below. For reference, this is the 21st song I’ve written this year. Click here to see all the other weekly songs.

Lightbulb Eyes

F – C – Eb – Gm

He had lightbulb eyes
lighting up and popping out on stalks.
He had those clip on ties.
Dragon jaws, dragon jaws.

Check those filmy eyes.
Cotton wings, polystyrene.
Comic books don’t lie.
Calenture, miniature.

When will I see you again?
’til then I’ll keep my enemies close.
When will I see you again?
’til then I’ll keep the monsters near.

I must have heard something.
Creaking shelves or railway sidings.
He had a knot-hole eye,
walking free, but sleeping blind.

The coughing/coffin passed you by.
Young and sly, handsome while
you reached for the light.
Euphoria, Angelica.

Drinking in Strasbourg

Posted 25 May 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos, Travel

This Sunday afternoon, I sat outside the lovely Berthom bar, in central Strasbourg, with my friends Vic, Alec, Ant, Anne-Sophie and Rich. We actually stumbled upon the bar about eight months ago and immediately fell in love with it; the stylish font on the sign, the dazzling menu of beers, the dark alcoves and friendly waiting staff. This time, barely recovered from clambering breathlessly up hundreds of steps (and 66 metres) to the viewing platform of Strasbourg Cathedral, we collapsed gratefully into our seats and ordered:

A Maredsous 6 Blonde and a Bel Pils, for me. The former a very refreshing Belgian beer, slightly sweet and dry, with a nice, burnt, orange colour, the latter a plain but hugely drinkable pilsener from the Duvel stable.

A Faro Lindemans and another Maredsous 6 Blonde for Vic, who (rightly) found the former – a Belgian Lambic beer – unbearably syrupy, although it also had a counterbalancing (but not very pleasant) sourness, too. The latter, as mentioned above, made up for the ordering faux-pas.

A couple of strong beers for Ant; I forget what the first was, but it was a heavy, dark, bitter concoction (and very nice for it). The second was the dark variety of the first beer I had – a Maredsous 8 Brune which was lovely – malty, thick, and laced with something spicy. Both these beers were 8% ABV and upwards. Brills.

A very sweet, light, fruity Pêcheresse for Anne-Sophie, which came – like all the beers at Berthom – with a really beautiful label. And I can’t recall exactly which beers Alec and Rich had, but I recall a very pale Vedett Extra White sat on the table, and also another brune, so thick and dry it was essentially stout. There may have been more.

Given false confidence by all this booze, we took these (very transparent) photographs of a guy we liked the look of. He totally knew.

Voice recognition

Posted 04 May 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

I get occasional waves of affection, thinking of friends, when prompted by familiar voices. There’s a girl on my floor at work who has a cracked, friendly voice, punctured with breaths and hesitations, which I hear fleetingly; it takes me back to thoughts of an old pal whom I see rarely. There’s something about Joe Cornish’s laugh, which he unveils with happy regularity on his Saturday morning radio show, which always makes me think of Pete, whose laugh I’ve not heard directly for far too long, as he’s moved away. And there’s a girl working at the servery at work, who has a clipped voice whose intonation I haven’t quite yet matched to a face – but which brings out odd, not-quite-tuned notes of a prior friendship. My best friend’s voice is nothing like her brother’s, but both occasionally say words the same way, or use a phrase I remember from the other. It’s comforting and strange; all the notches of pitch and pronunciation on a scale we all draw from.

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.

Paying up at The Gallery

Posted 06 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

I went for a lovely meal with a bunch of friends on Friday night – we went to The Gallery in Hove; which is a colourful and friendly sort of place, which is my way of saying they cheerfully tolerated the amount of noise we made over the course of the evening. Here we are at the end of the night, trying to work out how to divide the bill.

A song a week: Song #5 (Keep Me Safe)

Posted 04 Feb 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

I’ve had a pretty awful few days this week, so it’s strangely fitting that the saddest song so far should be this week’s offering – although oddly it was written just before my bad few days started. It was about one thing, and since then it has taken on the meaning of something else, all by itself. The dog has come to resemble its owner. It is, I think, the song I’m most proud of so far – I like the way it crumples up in the middle, and then picks itself up and keeps going.

Keep Me Safe by jonathanshipley

I had a week off shooting video for this song, which was nice. Dan came up with the following, doubtless using it as a way of using up all the old footage of me he has kicking around on his hard-drive. As such – it’s a bit of a Jonathan-fest. I’m aware how self-centred this makes me look. Thanks Dan for the video, and encouraging the notion that I am in love with myself. Luckily, he has helpfully included several shots of me looking like a wreck.

You can catch up with previous Weekly Songs here, and see more of Dan’s videos here.
You can follow @weeklysongs on twitter too, if you like.

A song a week for 2011: Song #4 (Alsace)

Posted 28 Jan 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

A few of these songs seem to be taking on a fairly melancholy strain. I think that’s because it’s always easy to tap into and access sadness, creatively, but you really need to feel jolly to compose something happy. Plus I think I naturally incline towards minor key melodies. Sad music has never made me feel down, although I know it sometimes bothers others.

Anyway – this song isn’t really supposed to be melancholic; it may be about missing absent friends, but really it was conceived as more of a celebration of them. So this song is for all my friends, all of whom contribute enormously to my quality of life – but particularly for Anne-Sophie, Rich, Pete, Siobhan, Dan, Sam, Laura, Andy, Ali, Chris and Natalia – all of whom really need to just adjust their life plans and get on with moving back to Brighton.

Alsace by jonathanshipley

Richard Dawkins’ hate mail

Posted 26 Nov 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General

Weirdly, this video makes me feel really Christmassy. Here in Brighton we don’t get to spend Christmas with Dawkins, so we have to get Sam over instead – he’s our proxy-Dawkins.

In the country club

Posted 23 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos

Couple of landscapes from the weekend; me, Dan, Ant, Alec and Vic had a weekend camping in West Sussex; jolly nice it was – lots of warm walks in soft rain, bonfires, games of rounders and pints of Meteor.

Hook Farm, between the lovely villages of West Hoathly and Ardingly, is a beautiful spot to camp; secluded, huge, and beautiful. We’ve stayed here two years running now, and I’d be surprised if we don’t return. Here’s the campsite.

Yesterday we went on a long ramble – starting at the Ardingly Inn and touring the grounds of the local prep school (Ardingly College, which schooled Ian Hislop and a million Tory MPs) and the nearby reservoir. The views were pretty spectacular and, pleasingly, the weather held out.

Today my body aches gratifyingly.

Vintage at Goodwood Festival Diary, day one

Posted 16 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

Preamble: I hadn’t expected to attend Vintage for this, its first year, but I won a pair of free weekend tickets late in the week, meaning that Victoria and myself were able to make it along for two of the three days.

The festival, in case you’re not familiar with the concept, is a ‘celebration of Britishness’ organised by Wayne Hemingway, and aims to bring together music, art and fashion from the 1940s through to the 80s. Hosted at the splendid Goodwood estate near Chichester, it’s much more than a straight music festival – apart from the main stage and a number of smaller tents, the site includes a fairground, a food market, a patchwork of allotments and a prefabricated ‘high street’ – a run of stores operated by the likes of John Lewis, The Body Shop and Oxfam, along with a smattering of cafes, pubs, cinemas and cocktail bars.

It sounds grossly commercial, but the emphasis is on vintage gear and the crafts, with fashion shows, cookery demonstrations, dressmaking lessons and talks throughout the days. There are a bunch of second hand stalls too, with a huge number of interesting clothes, generally priced at around the same kind of price you pay in Brighton. In short, despite the emphasis on shopping, it generally avoided gaudy sponsorship and genuinely felt homespun and local, rather than like a big money-making enterprise.

1.30: The first thing to notice is the extraordinary level of effort, both on the part of the organisers (whose ‘high street’ looks genuinely brilliant) and the attendees, who appear to have gone to extraordinary lengths to look good. All day we encounter brilliantly dressed people, from teenagers in Topshop tea-dresses to super-serious Mods, from middle-aged men in expensive tailored suits to young women in exquisite 50s dresses. Via the high street, we head straight for Peter Blake’s art bus, which contains some really amazing Clash memorabilia, then explore the vintage stalls, looking at antique homeware and bric-a-brac. The weather is cool and dry, but we spy some ominous looking clouds on the horizon.

2.00: Rather than heading deeper onto the site, we drift left and locate some deck chairs overlooking the forest, and enjoy a picnic consisting of cheese (cheddar, Comte and Parlick Fell), bread, saucisson, cornichons, olives, pork pies and artichoke hearts. It starts raining and, ominously, we decide to ignore it (prefiguring later things to come). The food demolished, we embark on a circuit of the site, taking in a short glimpse of Aswad, who are sounding pretty crap over on the main stage.

2.30: The vintage shops have some great stuff. We spend a good half hour dipping our head in and out of a sequence of colourful, crowded stalls until I eventually stumble upon a pair of lovely, round-toed brogues, which after a moment’s hesitation I snap up. I’m already wishing, in fact, that I had made more effort, for I’m dressed functionally where everyone else looks amazing.

3.00: Vic, who used to become an absolute terror if deprived of a cup of tea for more than an hour, is strictly a roobois girl these days, so there are no caffeine withdrawals to guard against. Nevertheless, there are a bunch of nice places to have a sit down and a drink, and we grab a cup of tea and have a sit down. I initiate a discussion about shoe laces.

3.30: Reasoning we’ve done enough exploring, we pitch up outside the pub at the apex of the high street. Titled ‘The Festival of Britain’, it’s a gorgeously designed building – a temporary illusion of permanence. We grab a pint of Goodwood ale and sit happily admiring people’s clothes and marveling at the variety of stuff to do. Then the rain drives us inside.

4pm; We arrive at the main stage to find the Buzzcocks rattling through their back catalogue with fizzy aplomb. The contrast, as ever, between Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle is hilarious – the former round, content, undemonstrative; the latter still fighting the punk wars, hoisting his guitar high, windmilling, pointing to the crowd. When Diggle blows a speaker he’s forced to sit a song or two out, and is clearly dejected.

But such is the winning simplicity of the Buzzcocks’ back catalogue that the band sound exactly the same as a three-piece as they do when all four are playing. They bring out the hits – What Do I Get, Orgasm Addict and the timeless Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (You Shouldn’t've Fallen In Love With)? – but by now it’s hard to notice much except the driving rain, which has absolutely drenched the thinning crowd. Stoically, we resist seeking shelter – and the consequence is that we have to walk around shivering for the rest of the day.

5pm; We’re really soaked. Worse, we’re really fucking cold. So we resolve the problem by ducking into the Kenwood store, where we sit through a faintly painful Fanny Craddock parody, enlivened by the lovely set, which includes a revolving kitchen, allowing demonstrations to take place in the 1950s or 60s, depending on the need. That done, we’re still not much drier, so we go shopping. Vic picks up a frankly alarming pink cardigan, which provides an essential layer of dryness (our coats and jumpers are so sopping wet they’re relegated to our bags) and I pick up a ‘Blues and Soul’ T-shirt of which, it later transpires, Vic is so jealous that she buys one too. Still not entirely dry, we decide that momentum is what we need to warm up, so head for the fair, where we are spun up into the clearing sky, our stomachs lagging ten feet below us.

6.15pm; We go and see The Beat, who, we discover, we really don’t remember all that well after all. They dedicate a song to Joe Strummer, and everyone exchanges broad smiles. We go back to the pub.

7pm; It turns out that Sandie Shaw is still terrifically cool – she looks amazing and her voice stands up too. As we arrive at the main stage, she is tackling ‘Jeane’ by The Smiths, and it’s the perfect fit – a clever, knowing, moving track delivered with poise. Unfortunately, however, Sandie is operating as a kind of compere tonight, and the guests she introduces are not of such a high standard, and nor are the songs they sing. So while Corrine Drewery (of Swing Out Sister) has a great voice, she’s landed with a Wham song, which just sounds terrible. Similarly, Mica Paris oozes charisma, but there’s only so much you can do if you’re singing something by Tom Jones. Sandi Thom takes to the stage, too, and she’s just awful – warbling in her mannered way through a couple of songs. It feels like it will never end.

We do, however, get the splendid presence of the amazing Kathryn Williams, whose voice is just startling. She sings up a storm, her strong, passionate vocal effortlessly dominating the field. She’s charming too – after a display of effortless brilliance, she grins and admits “it’s fucking scary up here”. Her voice is so good that she even makes John Lennon’s awful, tuneless ‘Jealous Guy’ sound good. I think I could even handle watching Kathryn sing ‘Imagine’, she’s that talented. By the time, however, that Natasha Marsh and Linda Lewis take their turns, the song-selection is so grim that we’re fast exchanging pained expressions. Lewis announces that she’s going to play a Bob Marley song.

“If it’s No Woman No Cry”, I declare, “we’re leaving”. It is. We do.

8.30; Far, far, far, far better fun is the ‘Wall of Death’, a classic carnival act carried out at deafening volume. It’s massively exciting. Essentially taking place inside a large wooden barrel, the audience is placed at the top, looking down, while motorcyclists whizz around the drum, gathering speed until they’re eventually looping horizontally to the floor, inches away from the audience. It’s ludicrously dangerous and brilliant fun. We whoop and cheer, hearts in mouths, then fling coins down to the floor in appreciation. Great.

9pm; Hearts still racing, we head to the Torch, an impeccably constructed 40s style night club with a real dance floor, a big stage and a restaurant. It’s incredibly convincing – moments after the roar of engines and the smell of oil, we’re all of a sudden lounging on sofas listening to live jazz and watching some super-sophisticated dancing unfold ahead of us. It’s such a jolt, and a perfect example of what Vintage does best – of all the small festivals I’ve been to it has the most to offer in terms of variety and surprise; there literally is always something different around the corner. In conventional terms it’s not a music festival at all – it’s a day out, a kind of fair. It’s a vivid piece of escapism. And as such, I loved it. I’m also conscious that, on day one, we covered perhaps 40% of the attractions. Much more still to do, then.

Sunday’s diary will follow shortly…

Paris iPad drawing

Posted 05 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Drawings, Travel

Me and Ali went over to Paris to see Sam and Laura the other week; we had a truly lovely time and very much enjoyed the chance to charge enthusiastically around beside the Seine, in the Marais, and round Montmartre. The following drawing/collage was composed on my iPad on my return, comprising as it does a mixture of photos from the trip, tracings, freehand drawings and slops of virtual paint. Thanks so much, Sam and Laura, for hosting us!


For those interested in the details; the black and white background is a photo I took of frayed posters on a wall in Belleville; the colourful green overlay with a drawing of a dove is the wallpaper of a bar called La Barourq by the Quai de la Loire where we played boules. Laura is riding a velib just round the corner from the same place, and Sam is stood, drenched, by the Seine, where we’d just run through a sequence of fountains. The sign is from the Bellevilloise, a little theatre space where we saw a Burlesque show on Sunday afternoon. The boy, stood centre, was scribbling happily on a large blackboard down by the Seine on Saturday. There was a ukulele workshop in the same place. And the scribble to the left is an abstract sort of thing drawn over the orginal background, as is the protester above the map. The face right of centre is based on a stencil spotted on a wall in Montmartre. Anyone know who it is? Too handsome to be Camus.

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.