Tuesday, 28 April 2009

20 Albums Part II

This is the second part of a rather lengthy posting on a meme I was sent way back in March that went: "Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world."

The first 10 were dealt with then, now it's time to tackle the next 10. Are you sitting comfortably? Can you really be arsed to wade through this self-indulgent twaddle? Don't have anything better to do? No? Oh well then, we'll begin and may the best man win ....

Gilbert & Sullivan - Pirates of Penzance

My parents valiantly tried to get me to listen to classical music when I was growing up. And they succeeded (there's more about this below). Although not musically trained in any way, they appreciated that I enjoyed music very much and seemed to have an aptitude for it so I had both piano and cello lessons from quite a young age up until about 14 when fags, boys and booze became oh-s0-much-more desirable. I got up to Grade 5 on the piano which is not too shabby. I played in school orchestras and sang in school choirs. One of my mother's best friends was an accomplished amateur operatic society singer who eventually became a producer/director and every year I would be taken along to see her in whatever she was performing in. The very first show I saw her in was 'The King and I' in 1972 and I was 9 years old. If I remember rightly she played Tuptim, the King's first wife. She would also do Gilbert & Sullivan and I just loved the clever word-play and rumpty-tumptiness of the tunes. In fact, now I think about it, this was the very first live theatre I ever saw, so G&S has to go on the list for introducing me to anything at all being performed on a stage. I could've picked The Mikado or HMS Pinafore but I've gone for Pirates as it has a larger selection of hummable tunes. And the Pirate King looks good in tights.

Iggy Pop - Lust for Life

It was the late 70s, I was in love with David Bowie. Obviously I'd heard of Iggy Pop and The Stooges but, at the time, felt they were a little, shall we say, 'raucous' for my delicate teenage ears (I know, I know, and this is from someone who loved 'Never Mind The Bollocks' - hey, I was a teenager, but don't despair, there is hope...) Once again, I think I have to thank Jane Fewell (the older sister of my best friend at the time, Sue) for this one. She probably bought the album because David Bowie was on it, and you could clearly hear him doing backing vocals on tracks like 'Some Weird Sin' (at 1m50secs), so that was good enough for us. You all know stuff off this album - 'The Passenger' has been covered by everyone, and if you've ever seen the film 'Trainspotting' then you'll be well familiar with the title track so there's no excuse for feigning ignorance, people!

Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
It dawned on me as I was putting this list together - and it hasn't escaped other people who've done their own lists - that most of the albums come from a specific decade. In my case it is the decade that covers 1975 to 1985 ... um, yeah, it is SO a decade... yeah, well, whatever...

Anyway, I got to thinking about more recent albums that I have seriously loved, one of which is the glorious 'The Trials of Van Occupanther' by Midlake. Seriously, who couldn't love lyrics about woodlands, boats and log cabins; telling oblique but moving tales of pioneering, travel and isolation. Midlake have been described as sounding as though someone has given a pair of guitars, synths and a drumkit to a Victorian orchestra and said "Here you go, make a band". Their lush harmonic melodies sound like Grandaddy mixed with a bit of Neil Young, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, but in a good way. Here you are, check out the spine-tingling 'Head Home' or 'Roscoe'.

[While typing this, The Husband is standing opposite me trying to kick himself up the arse. I've offered to do this for him but he says he wants to practise. So unlike the homelife of our own dear Queen.]

Where was I? Ah yes, The Klaxons. Very hard band to pigeonhole. They were championed in the press as the instigators of something called 'Nu Rave' but this turned out to be completely made up. Released in 2007, the songs on 'Myths of the Near Future' are dense, highly danceable and have very interesting lyrics, often about ancient myths, magick, space/time travel and Aleister Crowley, all of which I was intensely interested in during my teens and twenties. This album made me want to go to gigs again. Just found a clip of them playing 'Gravity's Rainbow' and 'Golden Skans' on Live with Jools Holland - damn, they're cute too!

Oh hellfire, looking for Klaxon videos on Youtube I've just discovered the Interpol stuff. I LOVE INTERPOL. They sound a bit like Joy Division and have a bassplayer who looks like he's straight out of Kraftwerk. This particular track, 'Evil', has kept me awake on many a night - it's a very efficient earworm.

Lou Reed - Transformer

Songs about louche decadent New York bohemian lifestyles were just so exotic to my young ears. 'Walk on the wild side' felt dangerous when you're only 13 or so, and was the first song about a transvestite that I'd ever heard. Of course, the connection was Jane Fewell and David Bowie once more but I hadn't heard the album again for several years until in the early 80s I moved in with The Artist into the shared house in Guildford with Marilyn Girl, the Meditating Biker, the Mong Brothers and the Dominatrix, so this album connects both these periods in my life. It also has some fiendishly catchy tunes - I defy you not to sing along with "Hangin' 'Round".

Mike Oldfield - Ommadawn

Everyone knows "Tubular Bells", one of the most massive albums of the 1970s, selling possibly as many as 17 million copies worldwide and appearing on the soundtrack of 'The Exorcist'. I actually prefer "Ommadawn". Released in 1975 this is one of the most trance-like pieces of music I know. I used to listen to this in my bedroom, alone, in the dark, aged about 12. To me it's the musical equivalent of a person's journey through life. It's hard to describe, it builds and builds to a dramatic crescendo which, to me, sounds like someone passing through the gates of death to the enormity of heavenly brightness beyond. Yes, it's that big and, for an avowed atheist like myself, is an extraordinarily affecting piece of music. It instantly takes me back to my darkened teenage bedroom, grappling with concepts of life and death, to a time before my parents divorced and my life was stable and secure. I'd not heard it for many, many years and recently remembered how much I had loved it once, so I got hold of a copy just before last Christmas. Playing it again was instant time travel for me and I sobbed and sobbed. Plus there's a song about the joys of horse riding - "Hey, and away we go, through the grass, across the snow, big brown beastie, big brown face, I'd rather be with you than flying through space" which is delightful and touching. Buy this album if you don't have it. Seriously.

Nirvana - Nevermind

An album which changed the musical topography for a generation, 1991's 'Nevermind' brought the sound of American disaffected youth into all our living rooms. The track 'Come as you are' has a special resonance for me for reasons I'm not really going to divulge here. Kurt Cobain acknowledged the importance of the Pixies to him in writing this album, and they're mentioned further below. This album, to me, is the sociable flat in central Guildford that The Artist and I lived in which was, more properly, his art studio. Everyone knows about Nirvana, what more can I add?

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana

As mentioned above, my parents successfully introduced me to classical music before pop. The first vinyl albums I had bought for me were Dvorak's New World Symphony (also known as 'that one with the music from the Hovis ad with the little lad pushing his bike up a steep hill and freewheeling back down again'), Holst's Planet Suite, Ravel's Bolero, Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre and some Tchaikovsky. At some point in the early 70s the BBC showed a production of Carmina Burana on tv which we all watched at home, totally spellbound. I don't recall that much about it now except that, at one point, there were loads up people up trees, singing ... as you do. It was mental. And brilliant.

The well-known 'O Fortuna' was used at some point during the 70s in a TV advert for Old Spice aftershave that featured a surfer and some blonde bimbo tossing her hair around (found out later that she was the girlfriend at the time of the world motorcycle champion Barry Sheen - a heart throb of mine and therefore meant I hated her). It also appeared in the original 1976 film of 'The Omen' whence it has been associated with all things evil, which is a bit of a shame really, as it's a song about life being a continually revolving wheel of fortune and nothing satany at all. 'Whence' is a toothsome word that doesn't get used enough.

Anyhoo, in the late 80s, I sang in a scratch performance of this at Guildford Civic Hall - hundreds of voices singing, a small orchestra, it was sublime. I was quite brave - I'd seen posters stuck up about the town asking for amateur singers to come along to perform Carmina Burana in one day from scratch (hence the name) and thought that this was something I'd love to do. So I plucked up the courage to go along, on my own, to sing with a vast room full of strangers. It were grate!

So Carmina Burana again reminds me of my childhood and life with The Artist.

Pixies - Doolittle

This 1989 release was the second album from the Pixies and has the immaculate single, 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'. A massively influential band who never really made it to the mainstream, they sang songs about animals and UFOs, and often in Mexican Spanish. They instigated the quiet-loud-quiet style of song construction that Nirvana took to a larger audience. They were brilliant live, too. I saw them a couple of times in the early 90s with friends Nick and Anna who lived upstairs but one from The Artist and I. This was a pretty happy time for me.

Talking Heads - Fear of MusicThis was the first Talking Heads album that I'd heard, it belonged to The Artist. Brian Eno was the producer (can you spot the David Bowie/Brian Eno thread here?) and it was the first album I'd heard that flirted with mixing World Music into western styles (specifically the song 'I Zimbra'). This was released in 1979 and David Byrne and Brian Eno collaborated in 1981 on 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' which was the first time that samples were used on anything, so I was tempted to put that in the list. But I've yet to find a better track than 'Cities' (live footage, the track 'Air' is first which also good but hang on for Cities') off 'Fear of Music' to hoover the house to. Try it - you'll see what I mean!

Portishead - Dummy

'Trip Hop' was a musical style originating in the mid-90s among bands based in the Bristol area. Downbeat electronica music with a laidback ethereal feel, Portishead had an extraordinary sound. Spacey and filmic, this was the first 'new' musical style that I discovered with The Husband. Released in 1994, 'Dummy' for me represents the first year of blissful cohabitation with the (then) new man in my life. We were renting a (to me) huge 2-bedroomed bungalow with vast front and back gardens near Aldershot, within gunshot range of Ash Ranges. It was a time of intense loved-upness and new beginnings. Check out 'Sour Times' off the album

Anyway, if you waded through that lot you deserve a medal. And I'm sick of writing about myself so I'm going to shut up for a bit and continue encouraging The Husband in his self-punting activities.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Ooh, ooh, ask me, ask me....

Ooh, I've just discovered I've been tagged for another of those meme things. I'm a sucker for any sort of quiz really - The Husband and I cemented our burgeoning relationship in the dark days of the early 90s through the medium of pub quizzes and, on the side, I'm quite a girly swot and thoroughly enjoy the grown up equivalent of sticking my hand up in the air and shrieking, "me, me, Miss, I know the answer, ooh, ask me, ask me". I also seem to have one of those brains with an amazing capacity to store 'really useful' pieces of information that make you quite good at Trivial Pursuit (like 'what is the largest country in Africa?') at the expense of pushing out genuinely useful pieces of information like how to work out percentages.

There are a lot of 'oohs' in that paragraph. Not an expression I get to say much in real life these days.

Anyway, I was just wandering around the blogosphere and stumbled into exmoorjane's world to find that she'd tagged me for some questions a couple of days ago. So I'd better get on and answer them then, hadn't I?

What are your current obsessions?
I seem to be currently obsessing over coloured glass, preferably cut glass. It started with a lime green cut glass bud vase that I bought from a charity stall for 50p a year ago. I put it on my kitchen windowsill earlier this year and marvelled at the sunlight shining through it. "More, I need more", I panted. So off to eBay I went. My criteria are that the object musn't be too large, as it has to sit on that particular windowsill AND NO OTHER, and I would prefer it to be a solid colour rather than what is called 'flashed'. This is hard to describe but it's almost like a clear glass object has been dipped in a dye which sits on the outside layer. A design is then cut through to the clear layer underneath so you get a mixture of the clear and coloured. There's lots of Bohemian and Romany glass like this out there. I don't really like it but have been resigned to having to get some in order to get some red glass in there. You just can't easily find solid red cut glass. But, look, isn't it all so pretty?

I have only recently really got into blogs and blogging, and having found some absolutely fabulously funny bloggers (I'm looking at you Jaywalker and Antonia), I now find myself clicking my Google Reader list up to and including several hundred times a day in the hope that something new and entertaining has appeared to distract me from everything else in my life that I should be getting on with.

Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
I don't seem to have a single item that I wear most often, but I do live in Gudrun Sjoden clothes as they're bright, colourful and designed for layering. I also wear Birkenstocks these days - The Artist was smaller than me so heels were avoided and I never got back into them again. But, then again, when you can wear silver holographic comfortable footwear, like this, where's the problem?

Oh and fuschia pinky-purply trainers, forgot about them:

What's for dinner?
Dunno, what d'you fancy? I'd like Peking Duck please if you're offering...

Last thing you bought?
Some beading stuff from eBay. Specifically some African blue opal, Bronzite, blue sponge coral and yellow jasper. I make jewellery using unusual semiprecious stones that you won't find in the average High Street and mix them with pearls. I also make dichroic glass (I'm planning a future post on fusing glass). Why yes, of COURSE there's a website, thanks for asking - www.venerablebead.co.uk.

What are you listening to?
The sound of the birds in the garden and the neighbours slamming car doors in the street. Musically, I tend to either have my iPod on shuffle (so it could be anything from industrial metal-banging by Einsturzende Neubauten to Handel) or Radio 3. I have catholic tastes in music.

If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
Ooh, good question. I've thought about it and I'd quite like to be Odin but he only has one eye, he does have a couple of ravens which is a positive aspect but I don't think that outweighs the whole monocular thing. Anyone who mucks about with the animals is appealing, so that includes Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos, Epona, Diana, Athena amongst others, but I think I'm going to have to go with Bacchus - he'd give the best parties!

Favourite holiday spots?
Las Vegas - big, showy, noisy, glitzy, both 100% fake and 100% genuine at the same time. It makes absolutely no bones about what it wants from you - it's a town that loves you when you have money but doesn't want to know you when you don't and doesn't try to hide that fact. And I love sparkly coloured lights. And the buffets.
Arizona - hot, desert dryness. Red. Canyons - in fact, the biggest of them all, the Grand Canyon. Ancient American tribal sites. Meteor Crater.
Cornwall - St Ives. Cream teas at The Idle Rocks Hotel in St Mawes. Tintagel.

Reading right now?
'Return of the Native' by Thomas Hardy. I asked for a load of Hardy books for Xmas and have started with this one. Victorian prose can be a bit like wading through treacle and Hardy is no exception but once you've got your head around that style of writing, and the fact that it demands a bit more from you than your average Kathy Reichs or Marian Keyes, then the tragedies of the Wessex landscapes draw you in.

4 words to describe yourself.
Colourful. Loyal. Animal-loving. Calm.

Guilty pleasure?
Those freakshow documentaries - 'I survived a 200lb tumour', 'The 34 stone teen', 'Half man half tree' - that sort of thing. I am perpetually curious. Also 'You've Been Framed' with Harry Hill, especially the animal videos.

Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
My husband still makes me laugh after all these years - in a good way!
Father Ted.
Eddie Izzard.
My brother (who I don't see enough of) is hilarious.

If you were to come back as an animal, what would it be?
A swift. Fastest flying creature on the planet, lives for 21 years, always seems to be having a good time. That, or one of my cats who are pampered beyond belief.

Planning to travel to next?
Hopefully Jamaica early next year for a family wedding on the beach. Sand! Sea! Sun! Rum! (not necessarily in that order).

Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Two days ago was my birthday so we went out to The Percy Arms in nearby Chilworth which is part of a very small chain of pubs owned by a couple of South Africans whose USP is that you can choose which size and cut of steak you want, see it cut in front of you, and have it cooked how you want. They truly do the best steaks I have ever eaten this side of the pond. On Thursday I had an 8oz fillet steak cooked medium rare which was so soft you could almost have eaten it with a spoon. Fantastic!

Flower of the moment?
Tricky. I'm rather fond of orchids right now. I love the fact that they give so much, and for so long, for such little attention. Great big blowsy blooms that keep going for months and all they want from me is a tiny drop of water every now and then.

Favourite ever film?
I love so many films, I don't think I can narrow it to just one. My favouriteS though include Godfather II, Goodfellas, The Right Stuff, 2001, The Shining, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Alien series, Predator 1 and 2, No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski. As you can see, I don't do chick flicks. Although I also love The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Care to share some wisdom?
Keep calm and carry on.
Don't sweat the small stuff.
When you're going through hell, keep going.

Rules of the meme. Respond and rework. Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Tag 8 people.

So, then. I've done all the above except add one question as I think there's enough there already. Now I just have to find 8 people to tag.

Jaywalker at Belgian Waffle (although she's probably too busy with the weepette, tortoises and beautiful Mexican boys)
Katy at Katyboo1's weblog (although she's probably too busy with family dramas)
Pochyemu at It's mostly about me (although she's probably too busy with exams)
Antonia at Whoopee (alhough she's probably too busy with her false moustaches).

Actually, I think just 4 will do for me for now. This post has been way too long.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Once more around the Sun.....

It's my birthday. I'm 46 years old today. 46. God's Teeth - how did I get old enough to be a grandmother? When did my life all happen without me noticing it? The fact that I am now nearer 50 than 40 is both exhilarating and terrifying. Being Mrs Archaeology-head I am, of course, aware that in earlier centuries I'd probably be dead by now (and, actually, I've done a pretty good job of nearly being dead in the 20th century) so I am eternally grateful that I was born when I was and that the NHS exists.

Like practically everyone else (and, yes, it will happen to you too), I envy the young their youth, it really is wasted on them but then again, I wasted mine so perhaps that's what it's for. I miss that carefree self-centred existence where, in reality, considerations such as a having a roof over your head, food to eat and bills that have to be paid do not impinge on the really important things such as trying to look like Kate Moss (or a hybrid Siouxsie Sioux/Marilyn Monroe in my case), how to look cool while smoking or how to attract the attention of the beautiful floppy-haired public schoolboys you're at sixth form with.

As for the benefits of getting older (apart from not being dead), I'm sure there are some and if I think hard enough they might appear to me. Let's see - I know I have been on this planet long enough to have accumulated a little knowledge about quite a lot of things and a great deal of knowledge about a handful of things. Probably none of which is of much interest to anyone but me. I really enjoy learning which is something I have definitely grown into. My teenage years and early 20s were so full of upheaval and externally-inflicted angst that it took me until my 30s to finally hear the seductive siren call of a University library and to discover the sheer unalloyed joy of writing an essay comparing the social contexts of burial barrows during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages in Wessex. Bliss.

I have finally grown out of listening to Radio 1. Radio 3 is where it's at for me, Daddio.

I have rediscovered the pleasure of allotment gardening. I know exactly how that sounds, or at least, how it used to sound but it does seem that, for once, I'm in front of the zeitgeist on this one. I've had my allotment down the road for about 14 months now but had been growing vegetables in my tiny garden for a few years before. Actually, this isn't strictly an age-related thing with me - I had an allotment in my mid-20s when I lived with The Artist in Guildford but I had to drive to it (I can walk to my current one), I was working full-time in an office (which I'm not now so have more time) and I could never get anyone to give me a hand (P will come along if I beg and plead) so it only lasted a couple of seasons before I gave it up. There is a deep visceral pleasure in sowing the seed, Nature growing the seed and us eating the seed. Plus being outside in the open air can only be beneficial (except when it's raining and I have to hide in the shed). Anyway I have a different blog about it for all your allotment growing needs.

I've always 'enjoyed' animals (if that's the right word) and have always stopped to speak to any cats that I find but now, as I've got older I find myself doing things like actively feeding the garden birds, to the extent that we now have a resident pair of collared doves and a robin who will eat from your hand (we also occasionally get rats who come for the bird food but we'll just skip over that, shall we?) It thrilled me no end to discover that birds are actually the descendants of dinosaurs so, to me, what I'm really doing is feeding miniature velociraptors.

This all comes from my nurturing side, the side that won't be a mother and won't ever be a grandmother. I enjoy looking after stuff, feeding it, cosseting it and in the absence of children, this is the best I can do. In an ideal world I would have a smallholding with a whole menagerie of beasts to poke and fret over, but in the world I have to live in, I don't think I do too badly on the whole.

I'm not sure what the point of this post is now. It kinda started off on a reflection of age and ended up being about dinosaurs - I get so easily distrac....ooh, cake!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Yet another meme.....

I quite enjoy doing these meme thingies. This one has been doing the rounds so I thought I'd have a go.

All you have to do is pick a (musical) artist and using ONLY SONG TITLES from only that artist, answer the questions below. I've chosen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (and not just because they've released 14 or so albums so there's a lot to choose from, I also think he's a God-like genius). Here we go then:

1. Are you a male or female: The Sorrowful Wife

2. Describe yourself: Christina the Astonishing

3. How do you feel about yourself: Do you Love Me?

4. Describe your parents: Papa won't leave you, Henry

5. Describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriends: Train Long Suffering

6. Describe your current boy/girl situation: I Let Love In

7. Describe your current location: City of Refuge

8. Describe where you want to be: Where the Wild Roses Grow

9. Your best friend(s) is/are: Stranger than Kindness

10. Your favourite colour is: Abattoir Blues

11. You know that: The Moon is in the Gutter

12. If your life was a television show what would it be called: Thirsty Dog

13. What is life to you: Song of Joy

14. What is the best advice you have to give: Death is not the end

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Hullo clouds, Hullo sky

Tra-la-la - "Spring is sprung, the grass is riz" and I am skipping around like a wet and weedy gurly wot sa "hullo clouds, hullo sky" in true Fotherington-Thomas fashion*

Spring this year has, so far, been fabulous, in fact I think it's safe to say that that last three seasons have been really well demarcated and absolutely doing what they should do in a manner not seen since, ooh, I last saw my waist I reckon. It's been warm, sunny and dry which, I hope, bodes well for a good summer (last year's was truly pants). So I've been going menkle with my new camera and taking pictures of spring flowers:

*Basil Fotherington-Thomas, student of St Custards. He is unloved by Nigel Molesworth, our valiant schoolboy hero of books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.