I was playing Avocet – a not uncommon occurrence, it’s restful and interesting – when I caught the news of Bert Jansch‘s passing. I saw him a couple of times back in the day; how I wish I’d kept a diary now. One time he was with John Renbourne and was fairly obviously over-toked or similar, was fluffing his intros. John nurtured him through with a few gentle words; he’d start again and what followed was the immaculate magical guitar you hear on the records. There can be few lyrics more desolate and compassionate than his, “When sadness fills your heart / And sorrow hides the longing to be free / When things go wrong each day …” from Needle of death. This from someone called Bert. I guess my favourite piece of his is The waggoner’s lad, the opening track from the Jack Orion album; no words and Bert on banjo with Renbourne on guitar – heavy in a way stacks of amps can never be, and full of movement and grace. I love their Bert and John album. When I left home for college I thought I knew a bit about music but I was stumped at his mention those first days; such is the value of a university education. Thanks Bert.
Against the odds, liked the new show at MK Gallery. The exhibition guide talks of Anna Barriball‘s ‘practice’ – a word in this context that always gets my goat – but where I’d usually regret the waste of a big wall I have to say that Untitled (2011) had an impact. It, says the guide (and some of you may sigh with dismay the longer the quote goes on):
covers the wall with a number of beach windbreaks, whose bright, familiar colours have been altered by repetitive strokes of black marker pen. The saturation of the ink ebbs and flows across the entire surface as old pens run dry and are replaced by fresh ones. The rhythm of the shading echoes the seconds, minutes and hours spent throughout this intensive drawing process.
The thing is, it looks good, it shimmers like the sea and sands on the beach, moves in the air currents. And it helps (well, me at least) to hear that the artists’ mood shifts – in her ‘practice’ – through conception, concentration, the achievement of meditative states, the drudgery of the labour of seeing it through (you can imagine the relief of having to use a fresh pen) and back and forth again. There are intriguing pencil tracings and rubbings of doors and windows (and a brick wall) and a high-definition video called Draw (fireplace) embedded in a wall, where she started off trying another rubbing but ended up recording the “sheet of tracing paper sucked in and out of a fireplace by a draught, as if the building is breathing.” In tune with your breathing, it fascinates. As does Silver map, where, to juggle the words from the guide, a map of the world is submerged in a translucent layer of silver pen. Hard to say why but once you recognise a continent you are drawn in. Some of the other stuff fails to move me but, on balance, a bit of a result.
Didn’t know it until we got there but the BBC Concert Orchestra gig at the newly refurbished Watford Colosseum was in fact The Grand Opening Classical Gala of said establishment. Half a lifetime ago we lived in Watford but I was entirely ignorant of the Colosseum’s (it says here) world-wide reputation for acoustic excellence. Given that this was the first classical concert I’ve ever been to I can only assume that acoustically it’s down hill all the way from here. As I say, outside of orchestras in the pit at the opera (oh, and behind Ray Davies at Meltdown) I’d not seen one live before, let alone sat close enough to appreciate , say, how much harder the woman double bass player had to work to get round to the string furthest from her bow hand (I just looked it up, but decided not to call it the G-string) than the semi-giant male musician next to her. Was fascinating to watch the assembled musicians at work (at play). Hearing this stuff live, I was entranced by the dual harpists kicking off a dream-like Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (that’s Debussy) and was moved by the Fauré Elegy for cello and orchestra (cello gets me every time) but not that bothered by a couple of pieces of nineteenth century French concert bombast. Elgar‘s Enigma variations had their moments (the obvious bits) but I was disappointed to discover that many of the ‘variations’ were not actually variations of the musical theme; not my musical thick ear, then – it’s what it said in the programme notes. Was amused to discover the false encore also alive and well in classical music; it wasn’t in the programme but they had the music there and ready for a bit of Elgar Pomp.
And so the cultural whirl continues. To Birmingham to spend time in the Museum & Art Gallery. I’d been before, but this time I started at the top and spent more time appreciating some very fine ceramics on the second floor before gallery fatigue set in. A fine varied collection of paintings from half a millennium hung on walls (refreshing that). The Pre-Raphaelites are the official stars but of theirs the one I liked best was an unfinished one from Rosetti (see left, all the better for its lack of detail all over the canvas, is it not?). Sickert‘s The miner (right) had a powerful immediate presence too. (That was copied from a newspaper photograph, apparently, but I don’t think he ever hid the fact, Bob). The diversion back to New Street Station via the ornate eighteenth century Cathedral was well worth it too for the spectacular later additions of local boy Edward Burne-Jones‘ stained glass windows – some glorious reds and oranges (even when, by then, the sun was behind clouds).
Final chilling thought. I was just not prepared for Raquel Cassidy playing the severe disturbed and disturbing forensic pathologist and rape revenge killer in the latest episode of DCI Banks, the television adaption of Peter Robinson’s detective creation; she didn’t smile once. I loved the woman in Teachers, take great joy in her portrayal of Jack Dee’s fictional wife in Lead Balloon, where it’s her glorious multi-faceted, amused and incredulous facial reactions that really make that show. I’m still flinching.