It’s About Time

Time.

It’s a strange concept, if concept it is.

APW_8625_tonemapped-EditIsaac Newton and other scientists have seen it as a fundamental element in explaining the Universe, with laws governing the way events occur in a strict chronological sequence.  It is measurable.  Constant.  Arthur Eddington coined the phrase “Time’s Arrow” to explain the fact that time flows in a single orderly direction, though Martin Amis corrupted this in his controversial novel of that name, recounting how a German doctor in the Holocaust experiences a reversal of chronology.  In this world the atrocities committed become an act of healing, the genocide becomes the birth of a new race.

Philosophically time has attracted the attention of Kant, Heidegger, Plato, Heraclitus and many other great minds.  Is it a construct of humanity?  Does it have a finite or an infinite history?

We never seem to have enough of the stuff.  As a trainer I’m well aware of the demand for Time Management training, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  The bad news of course is that no amount of training can create more, just allow us to make better use of what we already have.

Musicians can work wonders with time, creating incredible rhythms with or without an accompanying melody.

Why does time seem to speed up as we get older?  When we were young, the school summer holidays seemed to last for ever.  Now those six or seven weeks positively fly by.  Tempus fugit.

Then there are other things that distort our perception of time.  When we’re engrossed in some enjoyable experience we lose all track of it.  The event is over all too quickly.  For the lover nursing a broken heart, time may heal, but it seems interminable.

APW_8633-EditThese perceived different rates of time passing seem at odds with our knowledge that time proceeds at a constant rate.  Or so we believed until Einstein intervened with his Special Theory of Relativity.  Considering how events viewed from different points in space led him to postulate that when seen by stationary observers time may seem drawn out, whilst for those experiencing the event time passed “normally”.  (You will have surmised at this point that I am no physicist!).

Science fiction has been fascinated with time since HG Wells‘ The Time Machine, and we regularly accept the ability to “warp space time” whether by TARDIS or Enterprise.

So what prompted this reflection on the nature of time?  Nothing more than a clock.  A not so simple clock admittedly, but an astronomical clock installed in the reception area of a client’s business premises.  How could I ignore such engineering.

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The vortex shape in the second picture was actually shot in a training room in the same building with nothing more than the tools of my trade as a trainer.  Wonder if you can guess how?

Shadows & Light

Every picture has its shadows

And it has some source of light

Blindness, blindness and sight

Joni Mitchell

I recently heard the author Ian Rankin talking about his character Rebus‘ favourite album, which remarkably enough happened to be his too!  The album is Solid Air by John Martyn, ranked by many as one of the must have albums.  Nothing to worry about there then, I’ve owned it for many years since I first discovered Martyn in the 1980’s.

Up until the release of that album, Martyn had been a folk singer songwriter and whilst those roots still show on this album (notably on Over The Hill) there is more to enjoy here.  The smoky jazz feel to the title track continues in the Fender Rhodes on Don’t Want to Know.  This track and the acoustic Martyn signature song May You Never are truly beautiful.  So different to the dirty funk of Dreams By The Sea and I’d Rather Be The Devil.  Yet for the contrast between the edgy aggression of these pieces and the lyricism of others on the album it all works.

Now this isn’t going to turn into an album review blog.  It was the paradox that intrigued me as I drove along listening to Rankin rightly raving, because both aspects were part of this very complex man.  In his time he wrote some truly moving songs that can bring a tear to the eye, and with his puckish good looks when younger this doubtless endeared a number of female fans to him.  Yet he was also a man for whom drugs and alcohol regularly showed a different side.  His “disagreements” with long-term collaborator Danny Thompson are legendary; though whether there is truth in story that one awoke from a binge to find themselves under the carpet in their hotel room, which had been nailed back down by the other I don’t know.

So we have a man with the voice of an angel, yet an inner devil.

I was thinking more about the extremes of personality again this week when I watched a documentary about the boxer Frank Bruno and his battle with being Bi-Polar (or Bi-Polo as he puts it!).  This was a poignant tale following his daughter Rachel as she sought to learn more about the condition and the challenges or whether or not to medicate.  Many with a mental illness will resist this route because however much they recognise the problems of their personality, it is nevertheless their personality that is being chemically altered.  When one of Frank’s other daughters had him sectioned, it took hours for police and ambulance staff to get him to go to hospital.

Which made me think – what is the evolutionary benefit of personality?  Why are we all so different, and why do some have traits which seem to carry no benefit whatsoever, whilst often at the same time having so much to offer in other areas?  I don’t have an answer, though I know that some evolutionary psychologists see the extremes of behaviour as being no more than variation from the norm in the same way that some are exceptionally short or tall.  Maybe they’re right.

I was going to finish by creating a composite self-portrait of some of my extremes of mood, but I’m clearly not a good enough actor to make it work!  (And looking at this mugshot, it would be character parts rather than leading man anyway).  Nevertheless this is still a composite.  The eyes are from a happier picture, the mouth from a more serious expression.  Rather like Martyn, I think it works.APW_7452-Edit

Collaborative

The creative muse comes in different guises; for some she provides a spark or shock that stimulates a radical result or new direction. Sometimes the force is less powerful and requires further input, such as an initial idea to build upon, or another brain to provoke and challenge.  A partnership can be very effective, where one party stimulates ideas from the other.

This is quite common in the music world; Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Bacharach & David, Rogers & Hammerstein. Where would Elton be without input from Bernie Taupin? Of course when it comes to songwriting there can be a clear division between music and lyrics.

Visual arts are a different matter of course.  In trying to think of successful partnerships I came up with Gilbert & George… and then stopped.  There have been many successful collaborations over the years, often involving those from very different artistic backgrounds.  A recent programme on the art history of the Cote D’Azur reminded me that the French writer and film maker Jean Cocteau famously collaborated with Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso and Sergei Diaghilev to create the ballet Parade.  The creative equivalent of The A Team!

At first I struggled to think of examples of this in the field of photography, but of course I was missing the obvious.  In any photograph there is the interplay between photographer and subject, for even a landscape or a still life can generate ideas by the confluence of shapes and light, though of course it is most apparent in portrait photography.

Working with five models on Sunday really highlighted this to me.  I definitely fall into the category of a creative who needs that external stimulus, rather than pulling ideas from nowhere.  Consequently working with Jemma and Cassie seemed to work best for me; their input and interpretation took me in new directions.  Helen, who featured in the blog yesterday, is less experienced I believe and therefore more malleable.  Great for those with the fully formed idea in mind, not so good for me.

Amy-Leigh was very popular with many of the others shooting on the day, and it’s easy to see why.  She’s clearly beautiful, and takes direction well… from those who are directive.  I shot a number of poses with her in two locations and yet didn’t really feel I’d captured many original images.  This was confirmed when I came to process them and found that many needed to be cropped in very different ways to the way I had originally envisaged the composition and framing.  I wondered if I would have any decent images to share today.

As it happened I did.  She’s young and beautiful which are not bad  to fall back on!

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Are you experienced?*

When your eldest daughter (who is a Classics undergraduate) mentions something about being excited to be going to an amphitheatre and seeing Arbeia, your first thoughts are that she is planning to do some field work at the end of term in Roman South Shields.

I say first thoughts, because that word “excited” should really have given the game away.  There was another explanation.  Her friend Neil who she works with when home from Uni and his band; Wood & Wire were playing a gig in South Shields in an open performance space naturally called The Amphitheatre.  They were sharing the bill with another band called Arbeia.  Which is why I found myself on a windy seafront with camera in hand.APW_4172

I wondered initially how much company I would have, but the place soon filled up, and being a free gig attracted a pretty mixed audience; kids with bikes and ice creams contrasting with those who’ve seen it all before; grey men in grey clothes mixing with those who were more overtly rock n roll.

Now this was never going to be top drawer concert photography.  An open air gig in full daylight, with large windows behind the band that at times needed a full two stops of exposure adjustment, and no electric lighting.  Consequently as the musicians moved backwards and forwards under the raised promenade that they were using for shelter in case of rain, so they moved from intermittent sunshine to flat shade.  Thus the fading light of the day, and what to me seemed like a strange piece of programming, meant that for me it was a show of decreasing returns.

Arbeia are a talented bunch of passionate musicians, but as headlining act didn’t really grab my attention.  For me there’s a difference between listening to a band’s music and then going to see them live.  You want some degree of spectacle, and Arbeia’s appearance at the end, when the light had dulled and they had nothing to compensate with, meant that for me they dulled too.

Wood & Wire were the sandwich filler, and played an interesting set including the Beatles‘ Helter Skelter, a song seen by many as a precursor to Heavy Metal, and by Charles Manson as a coded prophecy of race war!  An interesting contrast to their own song Protector of Man.  I enjoyed their set, but their inexperience showed.  Regular guitar changes from semi acoustic to SG copy, necessitated retuning after virtually every song, which meant that every time they built momentum, it was swiftly lost again.  You can get away with this if you have a front man who can entertain the crowd while your guitarist makes these changes, but when that front man is the one concentrating on retuning someone else must take the mic; I know, I have played in a band that suffered in the same way.  (Where are you now Primary Colours?!)  Peter Gabriel‘s stories are loved by audiences, but they also serve a purpose to distract from more mundane activities.

What made this more noticeable was that Wood & Wire were preceded on stage by a guy who wasn’t even billed to appear.  A solo singer songwriter with stage presence, immediately likeable songs, and who of course benefited from the early evening sunshine.  Jonny Boyle should have been topping the bill.  When you look at his history, it becomes obvious why.  And visually he looked the part; Ray-Bans, black T-shirt, and a battered acoustic with pin-up decal that could tell some stories of its own no doubt.

Maybe I just appreciated an artist who was like me a little older than the kids.

*Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?

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Black and White Notes

APW_0169When I was younger there was a popular TV series starring James Bolam and Barbara Flynn called The Beiderbecke Affair  which dealt with a mystery relating to the theft of a collection of records by Bix Beiderbecke.  I had no idea at that time that Beiderbecke was a real and very significant jazz cornetist and composer; I just know that I enjoyed the series.  Whether this was down to the fruitiness of Barbara Flynn’s voice, which was always welcome, the jazz soundtrack (in the style of, rather than by Bix) or the quality of the writing I can’t remember.  The series, and the two that followed were written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, Alan Plater.

Plater, who had studied at Newcastle University co-wrote the musical Close the Coalhouse Doora political docudrama of the 1960’s based on the work of another northern writer; Sid Chaplin, born in a pit village but who went on to become an artist rather than artisan.  Chaplin may be better known for another James Bolam series; When the boat comes in.  

Another alumnus of Newcastle University was Ian Carr, who read English Literature there, becoming friends with Chaplin as he did so.  Carr completes the loop, for as well as being a noted writer about jazz (his biographies of Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett are outstanding) was a trumpet player and composer, who wrote a suite of music dedicated to Chaplin entitled Northumbrian Sketches.  I say closed the loop, but not quite.  In his role as associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London he worked with a young man developing as a saxophonist and composer by the name of Tim Garland.

This weekend sees the Gateshead International Jazz Festival take place, and this evening the main hall played host to a fantastic concert.  The first part featured the Northern Sinfonia, augmented by Tim Whitehead (who had played in Carr’s band Nucleus), Henry Lowther and Andy Champion in the first performance of Northumbrian Sketches to take place in the region.

After the interval this was mirrored by another suite of music for jazz musicians and strings when Tim Garland premiered his Songs to the North Sky, inspired by his love for the region which developed when he was commissioned to write for the Sinfonia some years ago.  Although a “softy southerner” he put down roots here, and his family remain here while he travels. Both sets were outstanding, but Garland’s was given another veneer of quality by the inclusion of his colleagues from the Lighthouse Trio, Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis.  For me the highlight of the evening was when these three played a 40 minute set in between the two orchestral pieces.

Simcock must be ranked amongst the top jazz pianists currently performing anywhere in the world and gives a virtuoso performance at the keys and under the lid, damping, plucking, beating and stroking the strings independently of the keyboard.  Garland is similarly proficient, but it was Sirkis who fascinated me all evening.  As a former pianist and singer, I am at a loss to explain what it is about creative drummers that fascinates me.  Bill Bruford was the first to mesmerise me, and more recently Seb Rochford has done the same, both having the ability to work independently of the rhythm they provide to develop light and shade, humour and drama within their work.  As former band mates of Bruford, it seem right that Garland and Simcock should have appointed Sirkis who also fits that mould.  Looking like the love child of David Suchet and Brian Eno, he enjoys every exquisite touch of his colleagues, but then delivers his own contributions in equal measure ranging from moments of battery to passages of erratically ticking clocks.  This included a one man tour de force centering around his virtuosity with the hang.  Superb.

Asaf Sirks Kit (Hang on floor at right)
Asaf Sirkis’ Kit (Hang on floor at right)

There were many present who were older than me.  There may have been some younger than my daughter Holly, but regardless of the age of the audience everyone lapped it  up.  How could they not.  Lighthouse left us beaming.

For the first time, some of these images were shot not by me, but by my young apprentice!

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