Almost spring

Holy Trinity, Cookham.

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In this week’s Spectator…

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I sit in the front of the car with Elke and doze as we listen to David Hasselhof  songs on Bob! Radio (fuck me) and head to Potsdam for a live radio interview on the way to Berlin. At the start of the interview they play the whole of Pulp’s “Disco 2000” (it’s a rock station evidently), chat with me and then say it’s time for some Bach. I get so excited because I’m in Germany, home of my musical heroes, and they’re going to play the Aria from the Goldberg Variations performed by Glenn Gould on a rock station, and as the Aria starts I think “Man, this country is cultured,” but after thirteen seconds the presenter cuts it off and goes back to talking. Classical music: a universal herpes.

James Rhodes, “Fire on All Sides”.

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Nige swings George

My review of Nigel Kennedy’s Gershwin gig at Ronnie Scott’s:

Fist-bumps all round. Nigel Kennedy never disguises his pleasure at being on the same bandstand where, as a teenager, he once played alongside his mentor, Stéphane Grappelli. Nearly half a century later Kennedy was in retrospective mood as he led his unorthodox chamber quintet — featuring cello, two guitars and double bass — through a lyrical set dominated by Gershwin standards. It was a long way from the overbearing power chords of his Hendrix project. This was, in a sense, a return to the introspective mood of one of his earliest albums, on which a Bartók sonata was paired with a languorous violin-and-bass adaptation of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige suite.

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California, 1936

swastika california

Erecting a swastika at a German Day party in Hindenburg Park, near Los Angeles. From a Weekly Standard review of two books about Hollywood & the Nazis. (There’s more background on the murky history of the park in this LA Times article.)

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We have a Committee meeting at which several representative Jews tell us of the extermination of their fellows by the Nazis. They have ringed off the Warsaw ghetto and transported two-thirds of the inhabitants in cattle-trucks to die in Russia. It is horrible that we are so saturated with horrors that this Black Hole on a gigantic scale scarcely concerns us. They put lime and chloride in the cattle-trucks and bury the corpses next morning. They are particularly vindictive against children. I have a sense that my fellow-Members feel not so much “What can we do for such people?” as “What can we do with such people after the war?”

Harold Nicolson, diary, 9th December 1942

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Bob Marley, Middle East-style

no woman no cry

He would have been 73 today.  Somewhere in one of my files I still have the special edition of West Indian World newspaper that I helped turn out in the days after his death in 1981.  It was hard to believe he’d gone, and today it’s even harder to believe he was only 36. If you need proof that his music continues to transcend cultures, here’s an extraordinary version of his most famous song, performed by an ensemble led by the Bahraini artist Mohammed Al Bakri.  HT: On An OvergrownPath.

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Folk fail & thrill

There was a standing ovation at the end. I had the feeling that I was the only person in the Union Chapel who didn’t enjoy The Transports:

Its heart is in the right place, and the singing is full of passion, but you still can’t help wondering why this reworking of Peter Bellamy’s ballad opera has been winning so much acclaim on its travels around the country. While there are the makings of a fascinating story in this glimpse of the first convict transportation to Australia, the surfeit of well-meaning narration gives the evening the feeling of a marathon edition of Thought for the Day… The writer Matthew Crampton’s sonorous running commentary proves oddly intrusive. Moving back and forth across the stage and joining in the singing too, he gives us too much information, while the attempt to draw parallels with today’s migrant crisis is surely a prime example of preaching to the converted. Adding Dark Water, Sean Cooney’s song about a Syrian refugee, to the beginning of part two undercuts the flow as well.

Fortunately, Julie Fowlis’s concert at Kings Place was a lot more engaging:

Stadium stars have their light shows and massed troupes of dancers. Julie Fowlis’s only concession to showbiz extravagance was a pair of false eyelashes, which, she confessed, got stuck together during one of the first numbers. Most of us would have been too transfixed by her voice to notice. The Scottish singer’s ballads may be delivered in a language (Gaelic) that few of us understand, yet the purity of her vocals and the deftness of her musicians made this a masterclass in intimacy. That quality came across even more clearly on stage than it does on her latest album, Alterum, where the production values and the occasional string arrangement ensure that she is often shrouded in an early morning mist. A fine album, yes, but the ambience is a little cloying at times — although fans of her singing on the soundtrack to the Disney-Pixar film Brave probably wouldn’t complain about that.

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Blues album of the month

Elmore James remembered. Featuring Tom Jones, Keb’ Mo’ and many others besides.

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[A]n abyss divided left and right even during years of relative calm, when political issues were not particularly prominent. The way of thinking of the two camps, their mode of expression, their whole mental make-up, were different. Just as a man of the right would not dream of attending a performance of a Krenek opera, not to mention one of the plays staged by Piscator, a left-wing intellectual would take no interest in right-wing literature about the war. Each camp had its own newspapers, literature, theatre, music, cinema; it was perfectly possible to live without meeting representatives of the other side. If the cartographer of ancient times had marked “terra incognita” with inscriptions such as “Hic sunt leones”, each side believed that outside its own camp there were only skunks and asses.

Walter Laqueur, “Weimar: A Cultural History, 1918-1933”.

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