Proms in the Dark

In 2013 Darlington held its first Proms in the Park concert; an event aimed at bringing the people of Darlington together and promoting a sense of civic pride in the town.  This weekend saw the fourth of these events and brought me back to the town’s South Park.

The local newspaper’s headline from the 2015 event spoke volumes “Best of British on Display” for indeed this is a quintessentially British event; deckchairs and picnic blankets, champagne and ice cream, the gentle jingoism of a military band proclaiming that

The Army, The Navy and The Air Force have made old England’s name

Our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen have always played the game

They’re steady, they’re true and always ready

They fight for you and me

The Army, The Navy and The Air Force leading us to victory.

The irony of British  service men singing of what they have done for England went over the heads of most, but this weekend it had a particular irony.  We are no longer a united kingdom.  We have endured a bitterly divisive political campaign over our membership of the European Union, a campaign marked by lies, distortions and utter disrespect on both sides of the argument and we face an uncertain future.  Both of our main political parties are now riven by in-fighting, and politicians who have long know that the public lacked confidence and respect in them have behaved in ways likely to see their standing eroded further.  I fear this will result in greater division within the population too as more extremism gains a voice.  I may seem needlessly pessimistic – but Michael White, a political journalist who I have always respected if not always agreed with puts it well here.

The regional splits in how the country voted mean that Scotland has a justifiable reason to demand a second independence vote; they voted to remain in the EU.  Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, will pursue this vigorously, but she may not be alone in wanting to break away from the UK.  _PW_1681Across the Irish Sea, a majority in Northern Ireland voted Remain too, giving Sinn Féin grounds to pursue their agenda of a united Ireland once more, the Republic of Ireland being the only part of the EU where we have a shared border.

_PW_1664The band leader who fronted the performance explained that in choosing his programme he had opted for the theme of “music from around the world”, yet we have just turned our back on internationalism in favour of division and subdivision.

I have no idea how most of the audience around me may have voted (though there were some obvious indications), but it already seems that those who desired a Britain apart may well have a Britain torn apart.  Those who wanted to reject a European flag in favour of the “Union Jack” had better enjoy their victory while it lasts.  That flag may soon be missing the blue and white of Scotland very soon.

All of that seemed far from the minds of those celebrating Armed Forces Weekend and enjoying the music.

Or maybe we were just fiddling while Rome burns.



Son (Habana 50)

No, not as in a male child.

Son as in the style of music that originated in Cuba of which Salsa is a derivative.

Cigars and rum may be obvious Cuban exports, but when the Soviet Union collapsed the country lost a vital source of overseas income.  Tourism was encouraged as a means of generating replacement funds and so naturally they turned to an example of domestic culture that is know the world over.

When Ry Cooder came calling and encountered the Buena Vista Social Club roughly a century after the style originated (from blending two different Rumba traditions) a phenomenon was created with both a best-selling album and accompanying film catapulting the members of that band to international recognition.

And now it seems that every bar has a band.  Every conversation with a Cubano references the Buena Vista Social Club.  Everyone knows where they used to play or has a connection to this musicians.

Of course you must take it with a pinch of salt, but it does give the place an amazing vibe.



Bologna Jazz

I mentioned in an earlier post the origins of the Portico Quartet’s name, and really where else could they have been to acquire that moniker, for apart from the city’s architectural signature it has hosted an annual jazz festival since 1958, making it even older than me!

_PW_4105The city loves jazz.  On the Sunday that I began exploring I found the central area closed to traffic, an opportunity that appeals to the Italian psyche; time for a market, or sports event, or in this case some jazz.

A small stage had been set up near to Piazza Maggiore and with consummately poor timing I arrived in between sets, but th_PW_3760e mix of music that the sound engineer was playing to crowds of pre-Christmas shoppers was superb.

Jazz clubs like Cantina Bentivoglio host bands most nights of the year
and there are other signs too.  When Bologna born actor and musician Lucio Dalla died in 2012 it is estimated that 50,000 people attended his funeral here.  He is commemorated in a subtle piece of art that adorns a wall at the junction of Via d’Azeglio and Piazza dei Celestini where his shadow plays on._PW_4380

In a Hollywood style tribute to those who have played here, since 2011 _PW_4896marble stars are are placed in the pavement of the “Strada del Jazz” (Via Rizzoli).  Dalla has a star here of course, but others who have already been honoured include Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Chet Baker and of course Miles Davis.

On the day I visited a group of young musicians were taking selfies with a double bass around Miles’ star (perhaps a hint to the people of Bologna to include Charles Mingus next year?) but most of the passers-by were focused elsewhere, because however you want to celebrate jazz there is one way that beats the others hands down.

Just play._PW_4929-2

The Very Visible Lighthouse

View from the Black Beacon to Orfordness Light

A couple of years ago my daughter Holly and I attended an unusual screening at Tyneside Cinema in which a film director was premiering his latest (and only) film.

The evening was in three parts. Firstly the film was shown, though soundtrack and narration were performed live from a spot to the left of the screen, then a leather armchair was manoeuvred to centre stage for the director to answer questions. Finally he returned to his console, strapped on a small keyboard and performed a short set of his greatest hits.

Thomas Dolby, Boulder Colorado 2006
Thomas Dolby, Boulder Colorado 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The director/writer/performer was Thomas Dolby, and the film was The Invisible Lighthouse, a tale of the role that this landscape had played in his childhood, replete with war heroes, UFO’s, an undercover operation, and in particular the Orfordness Light which was being decommissioned due to the increasing risk of it being swept away like so much of that coastline had before. Whilst the building itself was being left to the forces of time and tide, the light and ancillary equipment was to be removed because of the toxic impact it might have on the environment. Orford Ness is a nature reserve._MG_2615

So here we are a couple of years later and that encroaching sea has yet to deal the fatal blow. The lighthouse is clearly visible from many directions, largely due to the otherwise unused land that surrounds it. There are reasons that so much of that land is unused and I will explore them in the next posting about the Ness but for now lets concentrate on the light.

Dolby’s tribute wasn’t the only expression of sadness at the passing of a local landmark (there has been a lighthouse here since 1792). An association was formed to look into ways to temporarily defend the structure from the sea until more detailed plans for its preservation could be agreed.

They needed to act swiftly as it was only expected to survive a further 6 or 7 years after decommissioning in 2013. An article in the Daily Telegraph in January 2013 pointed out that the tower was only 11 metres from the sea, and that four metres had been lost in the previous month alone.

18 months later and the building still stands.

So far so good.



I enjoy photographing musicians in action; the engagement they have with their music allowing me to capture their character without them becoming distracted by the large black brick I’m holding to my eye, so I was frustrated when, dashing through Ely in search of sustenance and a few shots of the Cathedral, I didn’t have time to capture the performance of a talented banjo player entertaining shoppers en route to the market.

Returning to my car I strained my ears unsuccessfully for the sound of his strings and voice but he’d finished his set.  Nevertheless he was still in the vicinity, hunched over his tablet writing of his experience of playing in the town.  A kindred spirit!

With one pair of glasses perched on his head, and another on his nose he still made a great image lost in his thoughts, but as you can see, some sixth sense alerted him to me and I was clocked!


Thus began a conversation that ran the gamut of the splintering of British politics, immigration, attitudes to busking, the joys of cycling, and of course music.  He offered to pose with his instrument at which point I noticed the writing on the head announcing that it had been played by Tom Paley, whose work with the New Lost City Ramblers has been acknowledged as an influence on a young Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia.  What I didn’t know until our conversation was that the great Ry Cooder (who will doubtless crop up again here when I visit Havana in May) and thus Keith Richards can also be seen to have adopted Paley’s open tuning.

I’d originally intended to shoot the man with his trusty bicycle.  He was on a three day tour, so all his worldly goods were loaded upon it including his Gibson banjo, Martin ukele, and atop it all a small plastic skull, one of his discoveries from many miles in the saddle.  When it came to the shot though I wanted something tighter that captured more of his facial expression so the bike was sacrificed.  At first I lost the sparkle of his eyes due to the peak of his cap, and though overexposure put some light back, it also lost some of the punch of the shot.APW_7294

This was soon fixed by asking him to raise his head to the light – the Kevin Kubota technique of “following your nose”.    Now I had something to work with.APW_7291

With a sense of guilt, I went even tighter in the processing of the image, losing even more of his precious Gibson, but hopefully retaining enough to be meaningful as a portrait of the man.  The fifth string remains as an identifying feature.

Of course he can never be fully separated from it; it has become part of his name.  Say hello to Banjo Nick.


Senator Canonica (Venezia 122)

Each journey between the Piazza and Lido takes you past the Riva dei Sette Martiri, the quayside where German troops executed 7 anti-fascists and refused the removal of their bodies as visible message to those who would oppose them.  Any research that includes reference to the seven martyrs will lead you to this story, which is interesting, but no helpful when you’re trying to discover something else.

There is a stunning villa on the quayside in polychrome marble and although I had a picture, I had no idea as to why this building might be significant; and it was too beautiful to be mundane.  I’d virtually given up when I examined the image once more and noticed the inscription above the door which refers to it being a donation by Pietro Canonica.  Who?

Although he died in the same year as I was born, Canonica as a painter, sculptor and composer was a major figure in Italian arts so I’m surprised I hadn’t come across the name before.  You learn something every day!Venezia-11-2

Perception Is Reality?

The volume of driving required for my job is made bearable by a combination of Radio 4 and the songs on my iPhone, and it was the latter that I turned to this week as I made my way to Bardon in Leicestershire.  Set to shuffle each new song is a surprise, but I was delighted when the swirling Hammond Organ signified John Martyn’s Changes Her Mind.  I pushed the volume higher to await the exquisite anguished growl that begins one of the lines of the chorus, a wail like the death cry of some mythical creature.  It didn’t come.  Had I missed it?  I flicked the back button to play the song a second time.  Still not there.  Great song but my memory of it was completely distorted.  I’m now wondering which of Martyn’s other songs I’ve managed to confuse with this one.

She just changes her mind like the wind
She thinks loving me is such a sin
I don’t know where to begin any more
She just changes her mind like the wind.

John Martyn

The following morning I awoke at some ungodly hour to the repeating lines of an ear worm.  Not Martyn surprisingly, but Cassandra Wilson‘s take on the Neil Young song Harvest Moon.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

Neil Young

Why had that song woken me?  I knew not but resolved to remove it from my phone to prevent a recurrence.  Yet it was nowhere on the playlists.  I hadn’t heard it on the way down as I’d thought.  Even stranger that it should surface from my subconscious with the power to rouse me from the depths of sleep.

I recall that in earlier days, the phrase “Perception is reality” was often used to justify feedback, the thinking being that if someone else perceives you in a certain way, then regardless of your intention, that perception is how you really are in their eyes.  I understood the maxim, but never really questioned it, yet here was my brain pushing evidence to the contrary in my direction.

Perhaps it was a premonition of some description for on Friday I saw Paul McGee (SUMO guy) presenting his beach ball model showing just how opposing views of reality can be created.  His message though was not that you should blindly accept another’s view as more valid than yours, but that each should take the time to communicate their perspective to create a richer understanding of the overall picture.

Such esoteric thinking is all very well, but it didn’t really provide me with a plan for taking pictures… until I went back to John Martyn and decided that I should try to photograph the wind that he referred to.  Stuck with nothing more attractive than a pub car park to work with and very little light I didn’t have much chance of an interesting image though at least the clouds speeding through the sky on the stormy winds behaved as I’d expected them to.APW_6975-Edit

I wanted something more attractive though, so today ventured to the nearby Beamish Hall hoping that the options of landscape or architecture may provide a better contrast for the shifting skies.  I wasn’t quite so fortunate with the strength of the winds, but still captured enough to meet my needs.

Funny thing though.  Even Martyn’s perception is inaccurate.  Winds tend to come from a prevailing direction.  Not such a good metaphor for an indecisive woman then.  Unless you happen to be that woman.APW_7009_10_11-Edit

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