Monday, April 30, 2007

The Guillemots - a review

A couple of days ago I mentioned here that, as part of the Town hall re-opening festival, the CBSO were putting on a concert with the Guillemots, featuring a new composition by Guillemots' lead man Fyfe Dangerfield.

On the strength of the fact that the CBSO management obviously think this man is talented, I downloaded "Looking Through the Windowpane" from US iTunes and have played it almost continuously since, including two two hour stretches on the M5 (as it's a 59.8 minute set that means I have listened to it at full volume four times over!)

This album is terrific. Five stars all the way. I am not sure why as in some ways it is not an easy collection of "tunes". But maybe that is the point. The album needs time and space to grow on you, to get under your skin. It pays to listen to some of the tracks at top volume because there is considerable dynamic range, but perhaps the really noticeable fact about Fyfe Dangerfield's compositions is that they really are compositions in the "classical music" sense of the word.

There are numerous hints as to the stimuli behind Dangerfield's creativity. I picked up on Pink Floyd, The Waterboys and Tears for Fears but there are plenty of other sounds in the album that seem to have a history to them. This is not to suggest plagiarism in any way, I should hasten to point out.

The lyrics can be hilariously Edward Lear. But that's all right - think of some of the early Beatles' lyrics on, say, Sgt. Pepper. Lyrics tend to take back seat, anyway, to the rich panoply of sounds that are brought together in an open, crystal clear form of editing that makes you sit up and take note. There are numerous references to birds in the music, from flycatcher to redwing, clearly a source of inspiration.

So this isn't ordinary "indie pop". There is music here. There is creativity. There is honesty and sincerity. And there are some wonderful juxtapositions of sounds and rythyms. Try out the 30 second samplers on iTunes and you surely will agree!

BTW, I won't be able to make the concert in October - I'll be a long way away - but I hope there will be some interesting reviews. . . .

Friday, April 27, 2007

Call to Stop Children's Drinking

Hot off the newsreader this morning comes this report from the BBC concerning the proposal to prosecute parents who give their children alcohol to drink.

Whoa! Stop! What's going on!

There are people who just can't stop interfering in the name of "we know what's good for you and you don't" and of course this nearly always applies to the way in which parents bring up their otherwise helpless children. Which is why we now have the nanny state, thank you very much.

Way before I reached the legal drinking age an elderly friend of the family, and with my mother's full consent, introduced me to alcohol. I was the youngest of a set of young people, most of whom were already at University. I would have been 14 when the program began. I went to the pub with the gang and drank my pint with the rest of them. When staying near Porthmadog with "Jimmet" as we all called her, she would always serve a glass of sherry before, and a glass of wine with dinner. We would talk about the wine and I would begin to apreciate something of the variety in taste, bouquet, etc. that was to serve me well in the future. Then came the fateful evening when I was given too much to drink - a sort of controlled drunken state ensued. The morning after we discussed hangovers, reduced abilities and so on. I can't say I never got drunk again but the initiation served me well.

That period of my life culminated in the winter of 1962/3 when we were marooned at the PYG Hotel on Llanberis Pass on New Year's Eve. A memorable event indeed.

Jimmet was a wonderful person, full of life, full of exciting stories. She would let us be ourselves yet was always there to make sure we didn't over step the mark. She could do things most parents couldn't do - become a real friend to the next generation. We all loved "Jimmet" for her honesty, her warmth, her daring-do and her foresight. Her sort is lost and gone forever, more's the pity.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Going Blind on the NHS

Today's Daily Telegraph carries a scathing piece written by Boris Johnson concerning the UK's National Health System and an 82 year old who is going blind while trying to care for his disabled wife. The necessary drugs are not available on the NHS so he is using hard earned savings to have the treatments done privately. He has paid into the state system all his life. Now it is letting him down. More than that, he is likely to be considered unfit to care for his wife and they could be separated.

The comments to the piece stretch from here to the nearest A&E hospital (which in the UK is becoming a longer and longer journey). Inevitably there is a lot of political invective. One such comment carries a unique idea for negative voting. I quote:

"We need Optional Negative Voting, the right to vote directly against the scumbag you most detest instead of having to oppose him/her by apparently supporting an opponent."

The problem is, with no political party apparently offering a solution to the above problem, how do you single out the most detestable scumbag?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Town Hall Re-opening Festival

All the latest news from Created in Birmingham. This is very exciting, a fabulous program that speaks well for the future. Most interesting feature? CBSO and the Guillemots! The CBSO really is unique among world class symphony orchestras. Mahler one minute, Guillemots the next.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Birmingham Conservation Trust

As seen here, we get a photo and a quote from the Trust. Incidentally, the Trust is fighting the City Council to have the ghastly TV screen removed from nearby Chamberlain Square. It was supposed to have been up only for as long as the Town Hall was hidden in scaffolding.

Tip of the hat to Pete Ashton for bringing this to my attention.

Birmingham Town Hall

A few weeks ago I took some photos of the newly resplendent exterior of Birmingham Town Hall. Here is a small pdf file "fact sheet" about the restoration, including photos of the interior. The hall will be completely finished this October (the organ still has some work to be done).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Market for Lemons

This Wired article covers the interesting topic of The Market for Lemons as applied to memory sticks. An annoying aspect of the Lemon Theory is that so often we cannot differentiate between a good buy and a bad one until after we have made the purchase. One solution is to check how good the warranty is - the better the warranty the more likely the product isn't a lemon. But in the cut and thrust world of competition, the company that bothers to provide a good warranty, and therefore probably has the better product, is often the one that folds first because it must charge more for the product at the expense of market share.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh, Puhleeze. . . .


I like Lysol. As far as I can tell, the product is not sold in the UK (I have e-mailed the manufacturer to confirm this). Perhaps that is why some UK hospitals have had outbreaks of MRSA - they don't disinfect or sanitize properly.

Well, I have brought cans of Lysol disinfectant back from North America but this may not be possible in the future. So, what to do. Any suggestions?

Why I am a republican

I haven't bothered to read much about the split between William Windsor and Kate Middleton, but what I have seen simply confirms my belief that the UK would be better off as a Republic (not that the present batch of politicians could muster one candidate for President between them!)

Today I read this commentary by Jan Moir, always an interesting read, and give you this quote:

. . . a glance along David Cameron's front bench confirms it to be stuffed with old Etonians, as snug as oiled pilchards in a very privileged tin.

I don't think I have ever met an Old Etonian, but this description does seem to serve up a memorable image of the aristocracy that still has a disproportionate amount of influence over the lives of "regular" people.

And I never did like pilchards.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Rock Fall Revisited

In February 2006 a large part of Dunscombe Cliff, located on the heritage "Jurassic Coast" in East Devon, collapsed, causing a massive rock fall. The cliff path had to be closed - well, it had disappeared! - and then the wrangling began.

The local government prevaricated for a long time over what to do. Expecting more rock falls, they did little through the summer except to re-route the cliff path several fields back from the cliff.

A permanent solution would require buying land from the landowner (in this case a farmer) and re-positioning the cliff path with an appropriate fence. The lawyers got to work. A friend suggested that they might want to bring in a geologist to advise on where to position the fence. But the lawyers could see no point in hiring the likes of me and, in the best interests of themselves, drew up a line that would cost less for the strapped for money local government. It is quite possible that the fees associated with this land purchase and the subsequent fencing and signage replacements cost a lot more than the chunk of farmland they negotiated to buy.

The fence was erected in February of this year, twelve months on from the original fall. Winter in East Devon has consisted of a period of heavy rain followed by very little precipitation - in fact the ground is very dry at the moment. Local farmers have reported that the post hole digger used to place the new posts made enough noise to be heard up the nearby valley. It is quite possible that the unwitting council workers were weakening the cliff even as they worked to fence it off!

A quick look at the face of Dunscombe Cliff, as well as geological maps of the area, shows that a spring line can be identified half way up the cliff, basically where the porous Cretaceous rests on the impermeable Triassic (there is no Jurassic). This spring line would have been water-logged earlier in the winter but is now drying out. When soil and rock dry out, shrinkage occurs - think of mud cracks in a dried up puddle or desert lake. Similar cracks were visible a year ago, as documented here.

So, about two weeks ago the unexpected happened (unexpected to the local council and their lawyers, that is). Another large piece of Dunscombe Cliff collapsed onto the beach below. The new fence hangs precariously on the edge of the cliff it was supposed to protect. Some temporary signs and tapes indicate the folly of local government thinking.

So now the lawyers will have to get together with the landowner and work out a new land purchase. Will they ask for professional guidance? I guess I know the answer to that one! Oh, by the way, I will give a hint as to what they did wrong - they drew a straight line on the map!

Internet Access

After a short absence, I am back on broadband. Borrowing internet connections while traveling can be difficult - company firewalls, etc. - while WiFi access can be prohibitively expensive. One such service I tried seems to go out of its way to make life difficult and during the time you are learning its quirks and failings you are paying for the privilege!

So expect a flood of Flickr uploads from Canada, Devon and North Wales!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Message to the Beatles

As one who was a fan of the Beatles when "Please Please Me" was released in the early 1960s, I find it hard to understand their position on not releasing their music for sale digitally. In a world where everyone else has done so, it seems rather odd to me that a whole new generation of music lovers will have to buy a CD in order to own a Beatles song. Of course, they could easily swap such music illegally, thus denying the Beatles their royalties - a potential no-win situation.

With iTunes now releasing all of EMI's music at a higher quality there is surely no reason for this one small (it really is small!) part of EMI's portfolio to be restricted. After all, the Apple vs Apple law suit has been settled. What more does McCartney, Starr et al. want?

Kissing DRM Goodbye?

The big announcement in London today was not that iTunes would be selling the Beatles' portfolio but that it has struck an accord with EMI to sell higher quality DRM free music. That's a much bigger deal!

The higher quality addresses an issue that audiophiles have complained about for some time. To my aging ears there probably isn't much of a difference.

EMI is one of the biggies in the music distribution business so the question now will be whether or not the dominoes will fall. Knowing Universal's position on this, the last tile may prove to be a difficult one to knock over!