Saturday, May 13, 2017

Richmond Park - A film

I found a 20 minute video made by the Friends of Richmond Park, produced by Media Trust and narrated by David Attenborough . I thought I might share it with you. 


The park has been an important place for me over many years. An inspiration! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday music

There are 2 pieces of music I play on Good Friday.

The first is Allegri's Miserere performed by the Tallis Scholars. Here is a magnificent recording of it.


The second piece of music is John Taverner's Prayer of the Heart. Here is a recording of it from youtube



They are two incredible pieces of music.

I hope you find them helpful. 

Pink Floyd and Echoes



A good friend and I have a project to play every studio Album released by Pink Floyd. About once a week we get together and play the next record. On Thursday we played Meddle, released in 1971. So far we've played, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, More, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, - we played Zabrinskie Point because I mislaid my copy of Meddle, and then last Thursday Meddle.




So far it's been a pretty dull affair. And I'd call myself a good fan of Pink Floyd.

I could probably name the number of good songs on two hands in these records. Oh okay then I will. They are Astronomy Domine, Interstella Overdrive and Bike. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, A Saucerful of Secrets and Jugland Blues, - the live set on Ummagumma - which includes Careful with that Axe Eugine, Granchester Meadows, Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast might have been included if it wasn't for the kitchen. Fearless - the football fan sound effects are fairly marginal and finally Echoes.

With Echoes there is a transformation in the sound. Suddenly everything is working together. The sound effects of whale song and crows cawing work incredibly well with Richard Wright's atmospheric keyboards and Dave Gilmore's stark guitar. The different movements of the piece and the shift from one movement to the next works very well for me. 

I've not heard the studio recording of Echoes for a very long time - decades in fact. But I have watched a live performance on youtube over the last few years. I think it is an amazing recording.

Anyway hearing the studio recording again I remembered why I'd become such a fan. Echoes stands the test of time. It had taken Floyd a long time to mature as a group. If I'd been following them since their UFO club days in 1967, I think I would have long given up on them. Honestly, its been a real trudge after the promise of Syd Barrett's songs- and even here there are some very low points, through hopeless film sound tracks, and then the Walter's early years. Then suddenly they emerge into the light for - if I was generous the next 4 and a half albums. But in truth only 2 and a half of the next 5 records.

Musically they were such a limited group. On Echoes I can still hear a Saucerful of Secrets and I can hear fragments of The Wall, recorded 13 years later. Echoes indeed! I wonder what it was that struck me about them? There really wasn't much to appeal to me.

The first time I heard Pink Floyd was sometime between 1974 and the summer of 1975. A friend led me into a record shop. Discoveries in Harrow. Outside were boxes filled with second hand records. There were rows of them. The front of the shop was a green grocer's. But at the back in a second room behind the Green grocers was the record shop. I still remember walking up to the counter. My friend must have said something to the guy behind the counter. Then silence. I waited till I could hear the first clicks of a clock, a synthesizer gathering definition, an overdubbed voice. I loved it. In those first 10 seconds of The Dark Side of the Moon my world had changed forever.   

The experience of the UFO club in London must have been very intense. Their fans must have been incredibly loyal, having to wait a tortuous 4 years before anything truly remarkable emerged.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Jason Bourne - a short review



Jason Bourne is a disappointing post script to the Bourne Trilogy - we won't even mention the Bourne Legacy - because this film - Jason Bourne - is far superior in so many ways. However it still fails to meet the quality of the original trilogy.

There was nothing new. Repetition of ideas began to creep in to the trilogy - but only once or twice. Watching Jason Bourne was revisiting the shadows or ghosts of the original scripts and episodes. There was nothing to raise the film above the other three. Car chases, one to one fight scenes, unrelenting action that rises with tension, falls and rises again to an even more extreme pitch were all done far better in the original. 




Jason Bourne is too crowded. There are epic crowd scenes especially in Athens. How did they do that? But in the end it contributed nothing positive.It left me feeling confused and dazed without the satisfaction of serious plot developments.

Jason Bourne is too fast. There's not enough time to develop character. Perhaps I'm just out of date. But showing is better than telling especially in film. And I need more than one establishing shot. I think, plot and character need to be established again and again from a variety of different perspectives. 
Because the action is so fast - we move all over the place - I began to loose faith in the physicality of the action. 




Plot. There were aspects of the plot that almost worked. I can believe that Nicky Parsons has grown a conscience and is now challenging the work of the security forces. I thought the narrative concerning social media and Wikileaks was also good ground to establish a plot line. But again these need to be simple and need time to develop carefully. 
Perhaps the trilogy allowed character and plot to develop over a three film arc. Now established Greengrass and Damon must have thought all they needed to develop was plot. But this was patchy and didn't really convince me of its fundamental value. 
OK! I can accept a revenge plot in which an asset exposed by Bourne wants him dead. But this is given a too lighter touch. David Webb's father Richard Webb didn't really take off at all. I want to write that it doesn't take much to establish these features - a few seconds here, a slow meditative shot there, but I'm aware I'm probably writing about a multi-million dollar enterprise in which those kinds of shots are just too expensive. 



So next time I come back to the Bourne films will I watch 3 or 4 films. Well maybe 4 next time. But thereafter probably only 3.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Jackself by Jacob Pooley - a short review - spoiler alert

When I came away from the T. S Eliot short list reading at the Royal Festival Hall in January this was the book I least expected to win. Alice Oswald seemed to me to me the front runner. So it took a little while for me to buy Jack Pooley's collection Jackself. Even once I'd bought it - in February, I reluctantly picked it up to read. And yes it took me a little while to get into this collection.


Perhaps I was put of by the cover - a dismembered paper cartoon puppet without a face. Or maybe the title. But whatever the reason. I struggled to begin with.

But it grew on me. Sometimes playful, sometimes dream like. At other times dark and disturbing. Jackself is a series of loosely linked poems about Jackself - Jacob Pooley's childhood in rural Cumbria.

There's a patchy narrative arc that begins with Jackself. Then poems about the friendship between Jackself and Jeremy Wren. They are adolescent, challenging, playful and disturbing in their behaviour, their conversations and their view of the world.

I enjoyed reading about rural and village life. It is descriptive and detailed. I enjoyed reading about  the boys friendship. It's both humorous and honest. The boys seem restless, adrift and without meaning. Except in their friendship. Sometimes. And yet I couldn't invest the poems with value. Perhaps that's down to Pooley writing from an adolescent perspective.  Maybe that is the nature of adolescence. 

But then Jeremy Wren dies. He commits suicide. I don't know why.  Pooley evokes a strong sense of loss and this is really powerful and moving? Is it? So I suppose I found the emotional distancing - not only with the death but throughout the collection - a struggle. I suppose I expected some kind of resolution, closure or healing. But there was none. That's not a weakness in the writing. It reveals my own immaturity as a reader and especially as a reader of contemporary poetry.

Oh well! Ho hum! I'll try and write a better review next time.   



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Let Them Eat Chaos performed by Kate Tempest

Here is Kate Tempest performing her poem Let Them Eat Chaos.



Wow! I woke up at 4.00 am yesterday morning and couldn't get back to sleep. About 20 minutes later I was sitting in our sitting room, wrapped in a blanket, a reading light on and Kate Tempest's book - Let Them Eat Chaos in my hands.

I finished reading the book about 2 and a half hours later. Wow!

So I was in good company. Tempest's eight voices - the narrator plus Emily, Jenn, Pete, Zoe,  Bradley, joined me in that dark and disturbing hour where the poem is set at 4.18. That hour when we wake shadowed by our fears and anxieties. Joined me in a south London suburb - although mine significantly west of Tempest's - I guess.

I enjoyed best the presentation of these 7 personas. She depicts their different lives, one wealthy bored and restless, another - Pete, drunk or wasted on drugs fumbling his way home after a long night. Another voice comes home after a night shift as a carer. They are believable. Their anxieties and situations are realistic - perhaps she draws on her own experiences.

What I found quite difficult were the global concerns she addresses such as: capitalism, gentrification, celebrity culture, political corruption and global warming - I borrowed this list from the Guardian review. It's difficult addressing any one of these issues properly in any genre, but in poetry and all of them together is quite a challenge. Earnest - yes, heart felt - probably. But it's difficult to listen to a rant or a sermon.

But it is Kate Tempest herself that really shines through the book and the performance. I've attached it above. She's young, she's from south east London, she's incredibly articulate and her poetry and personality radiates a hard, fierce love.

Here's a link to the Guardian review and one from Dave Coats  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bone Tomahawk - A Short Review

Bone Tomahawk

I watched this film late one night when my wife was a way for the weekend, and I didn't know how to end the day.

This was an impressive film.

For the most part this is a conventional Western. Set in the mid-west in a little town called Bright Hope. It begins with an attack on the small town by a group of savage cave dwellers. They are presented to us as a mysterious species human.  There's the killing a young stable boy and the abduction of two or three townspeople including a deputy sheriff - Nick and the doctor's wife, Samantha, played by Lili Simmons.

When her injured husband Arthur - played by Patrick Wilson  finds out about her abduction he immediately starts out to get her back. So a small posse - made up of Sheriff Hunt - Kurt Russell, John Brooder played by Matthew Fox and  Chicory - Richard Jenkins, - sets out on a five day trek across scrub land and desert to bring her and the others back.

Despite the conventional plot - of white woman and innocents, abducted by strangers - it is the writing that really appealed to me. The dialogue and the attention to character and the development of the relationships between the posse that really made this film special. From Arthur's simple Christian faith and single minded determination to rescue his wife, Brooder the fearless, maverick gunslinger, the Sheriff - plain speaking, responsible and honourable, and finally Chicory - an old deputy - his dead pan humour, he's completely loyal and determined to do the right thing. 

There is a quiet, natural and unassuming quality to the writing that really impressed me.
Apparently the writer / director rejected all attempts by studios to accept the film on the basis of changing the script. All praise therefore goes to S. Craig Zahler for his uncompromising position. 

However visually the film contains probably the most shocking act of on screen violence I've ever seen. Thankfully it is only one short scene lasting 20 seconds. But it continues to be disturbing every time I think about it. This is where the second film genre takes over - briefly yet successfully for being so brief. Horror.

Finally what struck me was the ending. The survivors of this encounter with unspeakable horror are the most unlikely characters.

This is a film that should have gained - given its great character actors and first class acting - a much wider audience. Kurt Russell is incredible I think.

Anyway if you don't believe me read this review of the film in the Daily Telegraph

I still couldn't end the day after watching this and stayed up a further 2 hours. I might post to this blog the results of that experience if I have time.


Falling Awake by Alice Oswald.

I've been enjoying reading Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. I think this latest collection is absolutely outstanding. I've only read the first half a dozen poems and I'm completely hooked.


The book won the Costa poetry prize for 2016. And it was short listed for the T. S. Eliot prize.

I remember when she won the T. S. Eliot prize for her book Dart. I was totally mesmerised by it. This collection is doing something similar.

Oswald is a nature poet. She's brutal and elemental in her depiction of her Dartmoor surroundings. She pays close attention to detail. She brings the reader up close to her subject. We are present with her at dawn, a dead swan or badger. On one level their is a mindful presence about the experience of reading. Or are we kneeling in reverence at her subjects. 

Her writing is accessible - and yet she is not comforting. There is a music in her language but the song is not easy. 


The Troubadour 20 February 2017 - "Weather Report"

Welcome to my 2017.

I'm one of about 50 poets who have been invited to read a poem at The Troubadour on Monday 20 February. 

It is always a dynamic and interesting evening with a wide range of poets and poetry.

It would be great if you came along.  

The theme of the evening is weather.

So you better come prepared.



Click here or on the picture Stormy Weather by Frederick Varley above for more details.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cycling again after 12 years

video
Here is a brief video of me cycling. It's one of the first cycle rides I've had since 2004 when I had both my legs amputated. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Troubadour - last night

About 50 poets read at The Troubadour last night. It was a fabulous Christmas end of season poetry party.

Was it the theme of the evening - night? Was it Anne-Marie's apparently effortless managing of the event? Was it the staggering array of some really interesting poetry?

Or was it the subterranean atmosphere - blinding spotlights, the dark corners of the cellar, the close and intimate seating, or Cahal's music. I don't know. But one can't get away from The Troubadour's history - seasoned with the presence of Martin Carthy, John Renbourne, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon among many others.

I don't know but I was pleased to be there and honoured to be invited to read again.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Poetry reading at The Corner House

I'm reading at The Corner House Arts Centre this evening in Surbiton on the theme of remembrance. Doors open at 7.30 and the poetry readings begin at 8.00.

There is a £4.00 entry fee and I think that includes cheese and biscuits.


Leonard Cohen



Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2016

I was at The Troubadour for the announcement of The Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2016 last night. We heard the prize winning and commended poems as well as judges reports from Jane Yeh and Glyn Maxwell.

Some of the poems that really stood out for me in the evening included

Balloons by Betty Thompson, from Co. Wexford, Ireland

Ode to an Octopus by Catherine Temma Davidson, from London

Writing Him Out by Elizabeth Parker, from Bristol

and Flight,by Giles Goodland, also from London


You can read the Glyn Maxwell's and Jane Yeh's report and read the winning poems here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Music recital and poetry reading update


On Sunday 23 October we held a music recital and poetry reading at our local church. This was our main fundraising event to raise money for a specialist hand and foot pedal bike for me and raise money for the disabled cycling charity Wheels for All.

The event was an incredible success. We are now at a point where all the money we raise from now on will go to Wheels for All.

During the performance I realised that love bound us all together. Those giving - time and skill and money and those receiving - listener's, observers, musician and reader/poet and audience.



I'd like to say a very big thank you for the amazing - overwhelming support - practical, physical, material and loving - we received throughout this whole project.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Cybathlon 2016


So there I was this morning driving to hospital for an appointment with my usual companion Radio 4 keeping me company when I hear the words "Berkel Bike".

Click here for a link to today's programme of You and Yours. The article - about this year's Cybathlon that took place in Switzerland recently begins 19 minutes into the programme and lasts about 8 minutes. The bike section of the article begins 23 minutes and 20 seconds into the article and lasts about a minute.

Below is a photograph of Jonny Beer Tims part of team Imperial at the Cybathlon this year training for his event on a Berkel Bike.


Friday, October 07, 2016

Patches of Light - the booklet

I spent National Poetry Day - yesterday 6 October in Kent with friends. While Alex printed  out 250 copies of a short booklet of poetry I spent the day stapling and folding the booklets.

I've produced the booklet to help raise money for a hand and foot pedal bike. If you'd like a copy then send me an email to david[ ]loffman@conjuring[ ]sun[ ]light[.]com. I've presented my address here with brackets in an attempt at foiling any non human readers of this post. Don't forget to include a delivery address for the booklet. And don't forget to delete the brackets from the address. I've suggested £4.00 a copy.

You can pay for the booklet by donating to my just giving page here

www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/david-loffman-1

or click on the photogragh of me test driving the bike.


Friday, September 09, 2016

Patches of Light - Music and poetry recital

Patches of Light

a music and poetry recital on the theme of place
to raise money for a hand and foot pedal bike

Piano: Simon Hancock      Poetry: David Loffman

At: Christ Church New Malden 91 Coombe Road KT3 4RE

On: Sunday 23 October

At: 3.00 pm, followed by tea at 4.00 pm

Entry: free, donations welcome

All Welcome!


Test driving the berkel bike August 2015

Click here to make a donation now!



Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer Exhibition 2016


At the Summer Exhibition yesterday I found these four objects lying around - awe inspiring, terrifying and deeply disturbing


Big Black by David Nash
Bose Blumen by Anselm Kiefer


Self-portrait on Charcoal and Paper by Zatorski & Zatorski


Stormy Sea by Frederick Cuming


Monday, August 01, 2016

Man Booker Prize Long List 2016


The Man Booker Prize 2016 long list has just been published.

Click here for an article about them.

Which one shall I start with?

BBC Prom 2016 David Bowie Tribute



Click here for an extraordinary tribute to David Bowie at the BBC Prom 2016 given by the Stargaze Ensemble. It's available for about 27 days.

It was a fascinating performance to watch with some interesting re-imagining of Bowie's songs. It sometimes - I think at its best - felt experimental and bold. Sometimes it was conservative and restrained. Sometimes it felt like a karaoke and sometimes like a sing a long. The high points for me were Warszawa, The Man Who Sold the World - sung by Conor O'Brien and arranged by Michael van de Aa. This was a constrained and conservative re-interpretation but beautifully performed. Lady Grinning Soul - sung by Anna Calvi and arranged by Jherek Bischoff was genuinely bold and playful. Always Crashing in the Same Car- sung by Philippe Jaroussky arranged by David Lang. I loved Jaroussky's performance. His formal counter tenor voice contrasted with Bowie's lyrics and the spare accompaniment with a delta harp was beautiful. Black Star - sung by Anna Calvi and Amanda Palmer was chilling and dynamic. John Cale's arrangements and performances of Valentine's Day, Sorrow with Anna Calvi's searing guitar and vocal and then in Space Oddity Cale adds a gospel choir - not an anthem but it really did hit the spot.

Click here for a link to the Stargaze Ensemble

And click here for a link to a review of the performance from the Daily Telegraph.

BBC David Bowie Prom

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Changes



I've left Richmond upon Thames College and therefore left a 29 year old career in teaching in FE. It has been a traumatic and emotional time since I've made the decision to go. I've been dominated by grief and fear about the future. But sometimes I catch myself tingling with excitement and expectation. Here we go!!!

I have accepted an offer of voluntary redundancy.

I still have three years to go before I reach my normal pension age.

I do not intend to be employed in a full time capacity again.

I will live my life in a healthier, happier and sustainable way.

Here we go!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe

Click here for a link to the Georgia O'Keeffe Tate Modern Exhibition.



We absolutely must go!!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beyond the Border 2016





Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling 
Festival

is on this weekend
Friday 1st July to Sunday 3rd July

Come and be rescued, awe struck and amazed by this incredible experience.

Click here for a link to the festival website  


Maybe see you there!!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reading at the Troubadour



I'm one of about 50 poets reading at the Troubadour in Earls Court tomorrow evening.

I'm really looking forward to it. Come and join us if you can.

Click here for a link to the listing. 




Monday, June 06, 2016

A Shake of the Dice by David Kynaston

I've just finished reading A Shake of the Dice - the second book that completes the third volume of Modernity Britain by David Kynaston. It's the third volume in his project - writing a popular social history of Britain from 1945 - 1979 titled Tales of the New Jerusalem. It marks the half way point in this compelling history.

All the familiar themes are here, although in this second book there is not the same intense focus on key themes like education or the sustained debate on the rise in youth culture.

This is a more rounded book that explored industrial relations in Britain between 1959 - 1962. It considered the negotiations between government, unions and industry of one specific industrial dispute.

It also touched on the acceleration of slum clearances and the development of sky scrappers in the north of England and Glasgow. Kynaston does consider the destruction of working class communities and the alienation experienced in the new sky towers. Again we looked at the impact on Salford in particular.

Another highlight for me was the section on Tony Hancock. It covers the end of 'Hancock's Half Hour, the split in the relationship with Sid James and the beginning of Hancock's solo work.

The diarists are also present. There seemed to me a more systematic approach to them. They seemed to be used on mass to comment on key events. Male diarists were also introduced including Kenneth Williams.

Click the book cover below to buy the book.



It was an enjoyable read.

And I'm looking forward to the next installment - opportunity Britain.  

Eddie Mair interviews David Nott on Radio 4's PM on 23 December 2014

Click here for an interview with David Nott broadcast on the 23 December 2014. We were driving to Anglesey for Christmas and then this interview happened while we were listening to PM on Radio 4 with Eddie Mair.

Be warned. This interview does contain some graphic and very disturbing commentary from the surgeon.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

David Nott on Desert Island Discs













Click here for a link to an extraordinary episode of Desert Island Discs in which the surgeon David Nott talks about his work in Syria and elsewhere.

Click here for a link to the David Nott Foundation a charity set up by David Nott - developing teams and supporting communities in war and disaster zones, providing training for local medical and nursing teams in these areas and focusing on conflict and natural disaster surgery.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Poetry Reading at the CornerHOUSE Community Arts Centre, Surbiton



I'm one of the poet's reading at the Corner House Arts and Community Centre in Surbiton on Friday 10 June at 7.30 pm.

The evening will be divided into themes that include relationships, stormy weather and food.

Admission is £4.00. 

There is a bar. 

And there will probably be more than one interval. Plus cheese and biscuits! 

Click here for a link to the event listing at the Corner House in Surbiton.

Do come along it would be great to see you.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

PRIDE

We watched a really good British film a month ago and I wanted to recommend it.

It's set during the miner's strike in 1984/5 and presents the true story of the alliance between a London based LGBT group and a south Wales mining village.

I tell you it was good film. Obviously events were conflated, edited out, adapted and fictionalised. But watching in church as part of our film club was a liberating and incredibly refreshing experience. 

I feel that we had been sleepwalking in an older 19th century theology for so long. But over the past 7 or 8 years we have been waking up. Screening this film is another step in our struggle for true consciousness appropriate to the 21st century here in London. NOW!

If you haven't seen it yet than watch it. It's a great film!






Click here for a link to the film's entry on IMDB

Click here for a link to a review of the film in the Guardian

Click here for one of my favourite clips from the film

Click here for a link to a featurette  about the film. Brilliant!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Forest, Field and Sky - a BBC 4 documentary

I watched a really interesting documentary on creating art out of the natural landscape. James Fox considers the work of 6 artists including David Nash's Ash Dome in Snowdonia, in Cumbria he visit's Andy Goldsworthy and his fragile work Tree Wall then to the Outer Hebrides to see a work by Julie Brook.  On Exmoor Fox travels Richard Long's straight line. Then a garden designed andcreated by Charles Jencks and finally a work by James Turrell. 

Click here for a link to Forest, Field and Sky

Monday, May 09, 2016

Intimate Cartography by Jon Clay

Here is a visual poem my friend and colleague Jon Clay. What follows are his words, photographs and videos.



Click here for a link to the poem

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Joe Boyd's A-Z

A friend recommended a weekly podcast. It's called Joe Boyd's A - Z. 

Joe Boyd is one of the most influential and significant record producer's in the UK since the 1960's. He's produced music by Eric Clapton, Fairport Convention and Pink Floyd. He's also been collecting records since the 1950's and has begun sharing his vast collection in weekly 10 minute podcasts. It is a real treasure trove and I just had to share it with you.

Each week Boyd chooses one song - in alphabetical order - from his collection for his podcast. He uses that one song to explore the song, the artist, musician's, the genre and historical context of the song.  It's really informed, entertaining and I'm really enjoying Joe Boyd's wide musical tastes. 

Click here for a link to the podcast.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

FOLK BRITANNIA - FOLK ROOTS & NEW ROUTES




I stumbled across this documentary - is it just one, perhaps it's two - on youtube - originally broadcast on BBC 4 - while I was looking for something else. But whatever this is it is completely brilliant. It's just incredible for so many reasons. It contains some fantastic historic film footage of England from the early 20th century. It tells the story of English politics and culture.It tells the story of Ewan MacColl. It tells the story of the American blues It has clips of some of my favorite folk heroes like Andy Irving and Davy Graham.

Anyway I really recommend it. Enjoy!



Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl

Have I mentioned Joy of Living to you at all?





















I think it's a truly remarkable CD. It's a tribute to Ewan MacColl the English folk singer song writer who was born in 1915. The double CD includes 21 covers of Ewan MacColl's songs - some iconic and others lesser known - at least to me. But they cover a wide range of his song writing skills. Some songs are political, some social observations, some songs celebrate working people, some autobiographical and others love songs. 

However not only do we have some of the most dynamic and exciting songs written in these islands of the 1960's and 70's, but Calumn and Neil - Ewan MacColl's oldest and youngest sons have brought together an amazing list of contemporary English folk singers - both young and old - to sing. Many of these recordings were made especially for the CD itself. It feels like a labour of love for the family,who also accompany and do the arrangements on some of the songs.

I was just trying to write a list of some of the highlights from the CD but I found myself jotting down from memory almost all of the songs. Each one of these recordings is filled with a spirit of respect for the writer and a genuine love for the music he created. Each singer owns the  song for themselves - it is both their's but still also Ewan MacColl's. 

I am still completely stunned by the music every time I put it on. I continue to be blown away by Seth Lakeman's The Shoals of Herring, Karine Polwart's The Terror Time, Martin Carthy and Martin Simpson, The Unthanks, Dick Gaughan, Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Christy Moore. But then there is Chaim Tannenbaun's My Old Man, Steve Earle's Dirty Old Town and Paul Buchanan's brave rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

I think what made the present particularly special was that it was given to me at Christmas as I was recovering from a serious medical condition

Monday, February 29, 2016

Some books I've enjoyed recently


I've been reading quite a lot since August. So I thought I'd share one or two of the books I've particularly enjoyed. I've just finished reading 1606. It follows the year in Shakespeare's life in which King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra were written and performed.



Shapiro links these three plays to there historical context by identifying them as Jacobean dramas that could only have been written during King James 1st reign rather than Elizabeth's. For example in King Lear, Shakespeare tackles a central issue of James's early reign as king, that of an act of union between England and Scotland. One of the main themes of the play is the problems of dividing a kingdom. This important policy that James was passionately advocating incurred huge opposition in parliament. Macbeth on the other hand draws directly from the attempt - only a few months earlier in November 1605 - by a radical faction of Roman Catholic noblemen who attempted to assassinate King James and destroy the houses of parliament and the democratic structures of England in an attempt to create a new type of government and to reinstate a Roman Catholic monarchy. I'm being incredibly simplistic in this summary. The book draws on a wide social and cultural range full of interesting historical and literary details. As well as Shakespeare's personal and public life is woven throughout the book. Also Shapiro is aware of the contemporary threats being made to our own institutions by Islamic extremists.



I don't feel I can really move on without a brief mention of Shapiro's fabulous earlier literary biography of another year in Shakespeare's life, that of 1599. this history tended to focus much more on the day to day details of Shakespeare's professional life. It is set after all at an earlier stage in his career during a period of extraordinary creative output. The later book in contrast focuses on his first Jacobean dramas much closer to the end of his career where Shakespeare found the transition of writing from the Elizabethan court to the new and establishing Jacobean court quite difficult. His creative output at this stage in his life had slowed down somewhat.






I've been reading this social history of Britain since the first volume - Austerity Britain was published in 2010. Part 1 of the third volume is as lively and exhilarating a read as that first volume. However it's a lighter less intense reading experience than the first two volumes. There isn't, for example, the intense and challenging chapters on town planning or government economic strategy that we find in Austerity Britain or Family Britain. And perhaps there seems more emphasis on the developing youth culture, the growing significance of television and the birth of a popular celebrity culture. Despite this absence though it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I don't know when I'll get round to the final part of volume three that will mark the midway point in this epic popular social history. But part one has left me eager for more. And that is another fabulous front cover photograph. Don't you think?















One of the features of this collection of Sappho's poetry that I've enjoyed is the commentary on each poem or fragment and the way this is laid out in the book.

I feel so removed and detached from her work that the commentary has become indispensable reading. It doesn't cover every aspect of the poem or fragment but rather concentrates on specific points of cultural and literary difficulty.

I started reading the collection when Iona told me she was studying Sappho for her degree and I wondered if I could help out at all. So I tried reading the poetry alongside her.
However I recall Iona talking about the poetry over lunch one day where she left me rather stumped with her insights and knowledge of the poetry and history of the time. 




I've also spent some time reading the T. S. Eliot prize 2015 short listed poetry collections. It was not particularly easy reading collection after collection in what was for me a rather too short period of time - about 3 weeks over Christmas. But I particularly enjoyed Don Paterson's 40 Sonnets and the winner's - Sarah Howe's Loop of Jade. I did read Citizen An American Lyric by Claudia Rankin practically in one sitting. It was a dazzling and powerful experience. But hoped the prize would go to someone less established.

I also read Clive James's translation of Dante's Inferno. I was going through quite a difficult time as I was reading it.  The children had returned to Nottingham after the new year, David Bowie had died and there were difficult personal circumstances we were having to deal with at the time. 

At times it felt like I was walking through my own hell. It's not an easy read at all. especially as so much of what Dante writes is bound up with 14th century Florentine politics and public life. Again what helped was Penguin's own edition of the poem that contains a commentary on each book. I used both books to help me. It did take a long time to read.



Each of the images I've posted here is a link to amazon. So if you felt like clicking through you can order copies of these books from this blog.