Friday, February 29, 2008

At The Top

In a busy week I've struggled for time to read, outside of the reading required to do the job, but I have managed to get close to finishing David Hare's play The Absence of War. I'm developing quite a taste for his work. This one's a little bit of its time, being first performed in 1993 - about attempts by the Labour Party to win an election, which, being of its time, fail. But I think it still has resonance in its exploration of the sacrifices that need to be made to function politically. It's something of a thrill to feel you've got the inside version of what its like at the top. If it's like this, and the play rings true, then I'm glad I'm not there. But, then, I've always known that.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kind Of Great

So why are books about jazz pound for pound superior to their rock brethren? Better writers, who are better informed, with a better sense of audience? A better subject to write about? The advantage of a distancing in time enabling more definitive judgments to be made? I think it's a little of all the above. I think jazz is inherently a better subject because it's more clearly defined than rock, with a more obvious, and possibly more interesting, cultural history. Rock is amorphous, lacking in definition, leading to a nagging sense of uncertainty regarding its authenticity. Jazz slips easily into the authentic, particularly in the modern era, because you wouldn't make it if you weren't. Its gravitas is inherent.

And gravitas is what Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece has in bucketfuls. I don't mean it’s a heavy, pretentious work. Quite the opposite. It's highly readable, its enthusiasm and desire to communicate that enthusiasm as clearly as possible making it so. There's a lot of extremely informative musicological analysis which is so well done that even a non-musician like myself can end up feeling he understands what modal jazz is, how the musicians involved both created and approached it and why it was a breakthrough. The audience it has been written for is not simply the numerous fans of the album but an audience of potential fans - and with music as accessible as this that's practically anyone with ears.

It's also a pleasant book to handle, with brilliant black and white pictures throughout. (Why are jazzers more photogenic than rockers?) I've already been listening to Kind Of Blue with the book in my hands, reading along to the music. That sounds a bit silly, after all, isn't it enough to let the music speak? Well all I can say is that I was able to hear tracks I thought I knew very well in a new, and better, way. Wonderful stuff.

And, talking of wonders, I've just been on the phone to Mum who felt the earthquake last night in England, lived to tell the tale, and won a hundred and ten quid at bingo on Sunday and another thirty big ones on Tuesday. Not a bad haul for two nights' work

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Transports of Delight

Normally I'm wary of naming names, but backed into a corner, with a gun at my head and my assailant demanding my nomination for the greatest singer of the twentieth century (female) I'd say Ella Fitzgerald. In fact, I'd say Ella under pretty much any circumstances, it just seems so obvious to me.

I say this by way of introduction to a brief tale of background music encountered in one of the supermarkets in Parade Parade last weekend. Normally I abhor the stuff, but this time it was Ms Fitzgerald singing Every Time You Say Goodbye from her Cole Porter Songbook album. The delight of hearing a female voice working the middle range (a forgotten art in this age of keening harridans) could only be surpassed by the greater delight of hearing a female voice actually singing the melody and drawing attention to the song rather than itself.

It transported me from the skimmed milk to a better place. Would I had stayed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Still On The Tracks

Okay, a bit more on A Simple Twist Of Fate. The strength of the book lies in its evocation of the work of the session players on Blood On The Tracks. If nothing else it makes it clear how musically gifted these guys were, and how they bought something of themselves to Dylan's work. But the problem is that the book is first and foremost about Dylan's work and it doesn't really say anything new. It's interesting to be made aware of the extraordinary trouble Dylan goes to, and causes for others, in order to create edgy, improvisational situations in the recording studio, presumably to infuse his work with a sense of spontaneity, evoking the danger and on-the-spot creativity of live performance, but anyone who's read just one or two of the better known books on the shelves prior to the publication of A Simple Twist Of Fate would be perfectly aware of this, and Paul Williams, for one, deals with this aspect of the work in more detail and with greater conviction.

Unfortunately Messers Gill & Odegard take it for granted that Blood On The Tracks is a masterpiece and give the most perfunctory treatment to dealing with its music and lyrics head-on. They do some justice to Tangled Up In Blue, but barely touch the surface of great songs like You're Going To Make Me Lonesome When You Go - possibly the best crafted lyric on the album - and they don't bother to try and convince the reader as to why they consider Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts an integral part of the song suite and, indeed, a good song at all. (I think it's awful - not even close in stature to the great story songs on Desire.) An examination of the unevenness of even Dylan's finest work never seems to strike them as a viable approach to the album since they've convinced themselves it's a 'classic' in every sense, and give a lot of tiresome critics' lists at the end of the text to 'prove' it.

Another weakly journalistic part of the book is the filling out of the historical context of the album in terms of both the musical background and international political developments. This is risibly thin. I was there and it didn't feel like that at all.

But enough of carping. Maybe in expecting more I was being unfair. But having said that, the other 'musical' book I read over the weekend, Ashley Kahn's Kind Of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece delivered in considerably more depth, and I need yet another entry to do it at least some justice, and to consider why books on jazz are generally more satisfying than those related purely to rock So more soon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

Just lately I've been making use of the library at the Esplanade rather than the one at Marine Parade as the Esplanade version focuses on the performing arts so there's a good collection of plays and a wide range of lively material on music and film. On Saturday I came away with a couple of books on the making of what are now regarded as classic albums (Miles's Kind Of Blue and Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, since you ask) and they proved very readable, as evidenced by the fact that I've now read them.

Over the last fifteen years or so I've noticed an increasing amount of material in this sort of genre, not the classic albums thing, which is a fairly new development, but simply books in some sense about the world of rock music, written by reasonably well-informed, literate sort of chaps (the authors are nearly always male. Chaps rather like me, I suppose.) It's a bit odd then that, as far as I know, there's not a lot that's outstanding in this line, in terms of literary quality or musical insight. Mind you, I have to be a bit wary here as I'm not particularly well-versed in the field. But having said that I'm not aware of having particular works of great merit drawn to my attention - so I suppose they are not so thick on the ground, if they exist at all.

I say it's a bit odd since, given the sheer breadth of music on offer, from quite a span of time, and the passionate interest it naturally evokes, you'd expect something special from someone. But what you get tends, in my experience, simply to be a kind of extended journalism rarely rising above the obvious limitations of its subject.

I suppose this all sounds a bit jaundiced and maybe I can put that down to my disappointment over the book on the Dylan album, despite its readability. I'd heard of the book a few months ago and felt vaguely excited, I suppose because the concept seemed appealing and a review I read assured me that the book had been excellently researched. And so it proved to have been, but rather like a good feature article than something worthy of a full volume. That's the way I read it, I suppose, like a good feature article, worth glancing through but nothing to go back to. The tome in question: A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard.

More anon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Reading a novel you know you are going to teach is always a slightly odd experience. As well as having part of yourself respond to the text there's another irritating bit of you thinking and what exactly am I going to do about this, say about this, ignore about this? And reading Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha over the last three weeks I've found yet another bit of me reacting very strongly to the text in another way. I suppose the novel comes closest of any text I've ever taught to the circumstances of my own boyhood. The time period is an almost exact match - I'd be two years senior to Patrick. The social and cultural backgrounds are, again, an almost exact match, if you were to switch Dublin with Manchester (and as far as Catholic Manchester is concerned that would not be so terribly difficult.) So I've found myself pushed into remembering a lot of stuff that went on in my life in those boyhood years, at the same time wondering if Doyle has really got it right.

I think, for the most part, he has, especially the awful innocence of those years. Paddy strikes me as trying a bit too hard to be 'hard' - I didn't feel the pressures of needing to be so in quite such an intense fashion, but there was never a question of my parents getting a divorce and there are constant suggestions in the novel that much of our hero's behaviour is connected with the conflict between his ma and da. I also suspect the power of a Catholic upbringing for most kids is a greater moderating factor on 'bad' behaviour than Doyle lets onto, but when he gets it right (which he does most of the time in the book) it's spectacularly true to the texture of things. Most of all I think he's spot on about just how intimately connected with matters of violence a childhood of that period, in those circumstances, was. I wonder if the same is true today when kids seem so protected somehow?

And onto other matters entirely: I neglected to mention in my comments yesterday on the SSO concert that they played Kelly Tang's Apocalypso, a modern piece written by a local composer. So it was a touch unfair to complain of conservative programming. But only a touch - you only need to look at the repertoire to be covered in forthcoming concerts to see what I mean. Such a pity - the SSO did a great job with the Tang piece, dramatic and cinematic as it was. Surely the local audience could be excited by music of this nature?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Guilt Trip

There are a few features of my life that make me feel more than a little bit of a hypocrite, but I've learnt to live with the guilt, as I suppose we all do. But it bites particularly deeply that, despite being someone who occasionally extols the virtues of the arts, and especially the need to keep music live, I just don't get myself to enough concerts and such events.

So I was pleased with myself today for making the effort to hear the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in concert. It was all a bit unexpected. We'd decided to go down to the Esplanade in order to use the library and, realising the SSO were playing some Schubert (the Unfinished) and Brahms (the 2nd Piano Concerto) we bought tickets. It was the first time we'd been to the main concert hall to hear an orchestral concert. The acoustic was good, but generally I felt the space was a bit cavernous. The SSO were typically smooth, occasionally heartfelt, but I wish they'd programme a bit more adventurously.

After the serious stuff we had a bite at the nearby hawker centre and then caught some free music down at the waterfront - a young local band called B Quartet, I think. Sort of alternative rock, with an excellently manic frontman who sang well with a nice falsetto. Very Radiohead. Which is by no means a bad thing.

Well at least I've done my bit for art.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Just Idoling

Noi and I enjoy watching American Idol, and have been regular viewers since the back end of Season 2, when Reuben won. I can't say I'm a massive fan of the programme in terms of the kind of mainstream music involved but I find it generally entertaining and it's good to hear live music on tv for a change. I know there's a specie of music puritan who condemns the show for its commercial nature and yucky showbiz factor, but as popular viewing goes it's generally engaging stuff and, if nothing else, you can always try to figure out what kind of medication Paula might be on. Sadly the vastly superior musically, but similarly cheesy, Rock Star seems to have lasted only for 2 seasons, but for now Idol will do for relaxation.

Anyway what I wanted to get on to was that this week a couple of contestants essayed Happy Together, a song that was a hit in the sixties for The Turtles. I couldn't help but play for Noi (in the middle of the progrmme, as part of her on-going musical education) the out and out best version ever of the song which appears in the unlikeliest of places. I imagine that all Zappa fans know of the extraordinary live version on Frank Zappa and the Mothers Live at the Filmore East, but, just in case they don't, they need to get to listen to it. It's the closing number of the night, constantly referred to earlier as the 'monster hit single with a bullet', in an appallingly salacious, and equally funny sprawling dialogue I think the band referred to as the 'groupie' routine for reasons that will be quickly apparent to any listener. When they finally perform said monster we get two minutes of soaring, ecstatic musical heaven, proof that on a good night The Mothers (any line-up) were the greatest band ever.

And this leads me to wonder: would Zappa have cut it on American Idol? I'm fairly sure that had he ever auditioned (and, of course, he wouldn't) he would have featured as one of the characters we are meant to laugh at in an audition show.

The world is a smaller place since he left us.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Over The Bridge

This morning, when I was crossing the Benjamin Sheares Bridge, around 6.20: an astonishing moon, hanging uncritically over the city. Full, white, closely distant. Someone looking for a sign might have been impressed.

This kind of thing helps one keep one's sense of proportion.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Spice of Life

There's a little bit of the fascist in all of us. The desire that everyone should do it the same way - the way that I do it - is a human constant. I imagine that anyone who becomes a teacher has more than a small dose of the dictator about them. And that's why I'm pleased to say that I generally and genuinely do like the idea of people doing things differently. I suppose the only real idea I have about education and schools is that it would be a good thing if pupils came across teachers of a wide range of character types pushing an even wider range of ideas. The virtues of variety.

This seemingly reasonable notion appears to be so much at odds with the philosophy of pretty much every school I've ever worked in that it's quite comical. At one time I would have found this irritating, but that was the fascist in me talking. In the meantime, the fascist in me remains thrilled by a neat pile of well-organised files and a tidy classroom, which is more than a little worrying.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Making Demands

A few days ago Noi and I were watching a programme she was interested in on the Travel and Discovery Channel (at least I think that's what it's called. I can't keep up with all these channels, there are so many.) The programme was about the holiday homes of the super rich, or something along those lines. They seem to do a lot of stuff like that, letting viewers stare in at the lifestyles of the ultra-privileged. In fact the ultra-privileged don't have anything as mundane as lives - they have these mysterious lifestyles.

Anyway, to try and get to the point, I was finding it all quite interesting to watch, just to see the remarkable houses that people actually own and vicariously enjoy them, and noticing that I couldn't honestly say I was envious - which I sort of suspected was how the makers of the programme expected me to feel. There was nothing especially saintly about my lack of envy. Basically buying one of these places looked awfully troublesome and they struck me as major headaches to look after, even if you could pay someone else to suffer the headache on your behalf.

Confirming my suspicions, a chap who functioned as a kind of estate agent for the super-duper rich, and who seemed quite a pleasant fellow in his way, started to talk of how extraordinarily demanding the folk who buy these kind of places are, a fact that somehow didn't come as a surprise to me. I was fascinated by his rationalisation of this. Essentially he put it down to the fact that these people were special and had made their money because of the demands they were prepared to make, so it was only right, to be expected, that they continued to make such demands. He almost seemed to be saying that he respected them even more for doing so.

The odd thing was that I'm fairly sure he was well aware of the fact that the obvious equivalent to those who feel that they are significant enough to demand precisely whatever they need and feel intense annoyance when it isn't very quickly delivered are infants of around two to three years of age. I had that odd sense of seeing the emperor minus clothing - an image that seems to be extraordinarily potent in its application to much of our modern 'lifestyle'.

Tentatively wise statement for today: when you think you are entitled to something you are usually not at your best.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I didn't even think about trying to stay up for the United vs Arsenal cup-tie, but Noi watched and told me the result just before I did the dawn prayer, which, allied to the prayer, made for a good start to the day. It will be fun to taunt some Arsenal supporters on Monday (not to mention long-suffering Liverpool followers) making up for the bleak week since the loss to City. However, I must say I would have preferred the victory in the Premiership and I don't think old Arsene was terribly broken-hearted.

Frankly, I think Europe is where the real action is for the big clubs this season, and I'm not too sure that's such a wonderful thing for the game. Looking at all the clubs from the lower leagues now left in the FA Cup quarter finals is strange, as if the top clubs can't be bothered anymore. All the big four rested players ahead of the mid-week European games, and for Liverpool the FA Cup constituted the only chance of a domestic trophy.

Speaking of being rested, it would have been nice to say that's what happened to me over the weekend, but that isn't the case. I'm at that point of the year when the to-do list makes such depressing reading it's probably best to ignore it. Simply coping is a small victory

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One Enchanted Evening

I wasn't just sitting around yesterday evening thinking profound thoughts about live music as I watched old King Crimson concerts. No, I took myself and the missus off to some real live theatre, in the shape of a show entitled Love/Retreat presented by the students in our Year 6 Theatre Arts programme. And what a treat it turned out to be. I knew it was going to be entertaining just from my knowledge of the abilities of some of the cast (the others I just had not had a chance to see perform before) but it also turned out to be a genuinely thought-provoking piece with quite a range of mood and technique. They packed a lot into one hour ten minutes with not a dull moment to nod off in, more than can be said for a lot of professional theatre. It's a pity that it was a one-night-only occasion. I have the feeling that the cast would have been able to sharpen the show even more now they know where some of the big laughs are - and there were several very big moments.

After that we took ourselves off to the railway station for a bite to eat. This is not one of our usual haunts. I think the last time we were there was before I bought my first car in Singapore and we used to travel to Melaka by train. Anyway Noi suggested dropping off there on the way back, I think because she'd read something about the food and how good it was. It turned out to have been an excellent choice - a bit like stepping back into that part of Singapore of twenty to thirty years back that itself seemed to belong to an earlier period. Now there's little to be found of the shabby, run-down, easy-going charm we enjoyed last night. It was relief not to be in an air-conditioned food court. More than a relief - a form of enchantment. A bit of a magical evening, all told.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Living Proof

Some bands only really make sense when you hear them live. King Crimson have provided the archetypal example of this truism since their emergence in the late sixties. The odd thing is that, given the technology for capturing live performance which now exists, that position has been, in a sense, compromised.

Or that's what I was thinking early this evening watching and listening to the Belew/Fripp/Gunn/Mastelotto version of Crimso in a 2003 concert available on the Eyes Wide Open DVD. Much as I was enjoying the show I felt oddly uncomfortable as a result of my familiarity with the concert, having now watched it some six or seven times. The novelty of first exposure has worn off and a dangerous edge has been lost. Actually 'novelty' is the wrong word - somehow inadequate to do justice to the sense of creativity in action that the first viewing involved.

It's an interesting thought that the recording of music we now take for granted as being almost part of the nature of the listening experience is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Has the accessibility of music changed what music is? I think it has changed the way we listen - and changed it for the worse. Being there when music is being made, and being actually created, is a remarkable experience, but less and less accessible in our world.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trivial Pursuits

This time last year the missus and I were enjoying exchanging cards and celebrating the sweetness and silliness of it all. And today, the same. I'm grateful for time's mercies.

I think it's Betjeman in a poem about Christmas who nails the importance of the sweet and silly things, oddly enough by putting them alongside the deepest matters of all. This is a good place for them, both true yet ennobling. The smallest and the biggest things have meaning. The rest is important to deal with, but important to keep in proportion. I know because I so often fail to do so. And if it sounds like I'm preaching believe me that this advice is meant for myself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Out Of Order

Noi appears to have caught a cold. Unfortunately I'm the one who passed it to her, having been sniffling away and trying to cope with headaches for most of last week. Of course, I somehow managed to let my wife know how bad I felt and how brave I was, keeping going through it all. And I now feel rightfully guilty over inflicting misery on someone else. I feel even more guilty selfishly worrying that I might start sniffling again at a time I can ill afford to.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Tenebris

In the darkest watches of the night belief and unbelief are indistinguishable.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Production Values

I've been playing An Other Cup by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens as was) quite often lately. It sounded extremely good on the system in KL and I got over my initial prejudice against it as being somewhat over-produced. That's something I felt even of the classic early Cat Stevens's albums - rather than paring the music down to its bare essentials, all that was really necessary with such fine material, there seemed a tendency to add a little too much sugar. However, it's impossible to deny the classic status of these albums and surely the production contributes something to that - and I'm finding the same about this latest offering as it steadily grows on the ear.

I wouldn't describe An Other Cup as consisting of vintage material. In fact, the use of earlier songs (stuff from Mona Bona Jakon - I Think I See The LIght, Foreigner - Heaven/Where True Love Grows, and a previously unrecorded number from 1968 - Green Fields and Golden Sands) suggests Yusuf is not exactly awash with new tunes. But it hardly seems to matter. One new song, The Beloved, is worth the price of the album, and the wonderfully relaxed vibe of the enterprise suggests a man at peace and communicating that peace seemingly effortlessly. The curiously harsh, strangulated vocals of some of the early albums (think Catch Bull At Four) have obviously gone for ever, and that's great for both Yusuf and the listener. The tender vulnerability of the vocal on Green Fields is, I think, the best thing he's ever done in terms of unadorned intimacy, something the early albums seemed to strive for but always fell short of somehow.

Given the negative press that has accrued to his name in recent years (but what can you expect given the range and depth of Islamophobia in British society?) I don't expect that An Other Cup will constitute any kind of breakthrough for Yusuf, but I suspect it will win over more than a few neutrals to his corner of goodwill and its accompanying good music.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Long Road Home

We've been very lucky over the last three years or so in terms of having easy journeys to and from Malaysia, so it was only fair, I suppose, that we should suffer for once coming back to Singapore from Melaka today. Our journey to Melaka late on Saturday afternoon was uneventful, but we'd noted the long queue of traffic coming from the south to Kuala Lumpur, and this was an omen of things to come.

The highway down to JB was crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and made even slower by the fairly frequent accidents, marked by cars pulled over onto the hard shoulder. Then it was time for the crossing at Tuas. As usual the Malaysia side managed things highly efficiently with the big jam taking place at the Singapore end. For some reason the papers here rarely mention this state of affairs and it certainly goes against all the usual stereotypes.

Anyway we endured a four and three quarter hour epic, only to arrive back for what is looking, at the time of writing, like a major disaster at Old Trafford. It's certainly good not to be in Manchester at this moment.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Dog's Tale

Back into full exercise mode I completed eight laps of the taman yesterday afternoon, though not without incident. Said incident revolved around a dog, more accurately a bitch, the one that seems to reside outside the big corner house on the downwards slope of my run, the house with the warning sign about a guard dog. The brown bitch seems to assume the sign refers to her, which is clearly not the case as she wears no collar and roams freely round the estate when the fancy takes her. Back in December she chased Ayiem for a few metres when we were jogging by the house much to his alarm and my amusement.

Now she has obviously graduated to bigger fry, for having ignored me passing by on the first two laps she decided to snap at my heels on Lap 3. I was rather surprised about this as 1) she has never dared do this before, and 2) it required her to cross some ten yards or so to the road parallel to the path that snakes around the taman as I’d previously ran up the slope onto that road, just for the fun of it.

Coming down the road again on Lap 4 I wondered whether she intended to keep this up. She did. And by Lap 5 she was actually trying to hide behind a car parked on the space between the taman path and the parallel road in order to jump out and add the element of surprise to her attempts to intimidate yours truly. By this time I’d had enough. Instead of simply ignoring the pooch, as I ran I took a quick step towards her and growled, quite dramatically, even if I say so myself. I saw uncertainty in her eyes though, to do her justice, she continued to bark manfully or, rather, dogfully. (Bitchfully?)

I spent the first portion of the sixth lap devising a cunning plan. This time on my approach to the mutt I didn’t bother to leap the slope. This meant I was moving right into her territory. She warily tried to face me, but her heart clearly wasn’t in it, and as she seemed to make herself at least attempt a show of aggression I pointed dramatically in her direction. The canine faced with an obvious, and unpredictable, madman dropped her shoulders and shut her mouth.

The question now was whether my triumph could be regarded as complete or whether she would try and save some doggy face on my next circuit. Playing the unpredictability card once more, this time I moved back up to the parallel road. My adversary, clearing assuming it was back to business as usual, resumed the hiding behind the car routine, but this time she emerged somewhat less sure of herself and I let her have it with the dramatic left hand point, looking her squarely in both eyes. Her shoulders dropped once more: there could be only one victor. Me.

The final lap was entirely and rightfully uneventful. Man had asserted his dominion over dog, which had now gone sensibly to sleep outside ‘her’ house.

Oddly enough for some reason, when I told the story to my wife she was not terribly impressed.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lost Worlds

I phoned Mum last night and she was in good spirits, recording yet another big win at bingo: fifty quid, no less. We also touched upon the recent anniversary of the Munich air crash which destroyed the Busby Babes and talked about May Whalley. For years I’d heard the name of this lady simply as someone Mum ran across when playing bowls, the crown green variety. It was odd to discover, and I’m not quite sure how I did, that May had been married to a certain Bert Whalley, who had occupied the seat next to Matt Busby himself on the fated flight. Bert had been one of the coaches for the legendary team and was occupying the seat that should have gone to assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, himself a legend in Manchester for his part in the rebuilding of the shattered team. Small world. And that world was, small and local and good.

You grew up with the Munich story as a standard part of a Manchester boyhood. Teams were local teams. Men wore hats. Priests mentioned match results on Sunday morning. Duncan Edwards would have been greater than Pele. You stood on cold bleak terraces to support United and marveled when they built the covered stand. The reserves would top the Central League and most would end up playing for the first team because that was the way things were done.

Things change. Men stopped wearing hats, and put Dad and most of Denton, based on the hatting industry if you can imagine such a thing, out of a job. Most, then all, of the ground was covered. It’s difficult to find anyone to talk to who actually watched Duncan Edwards play. And they haven’t heard of him in Singapore.

Things got better and a world was lost.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What To Say

In yesterday’s brief recap of Monday night’s gig I forgot to mention the performance of Invisible Sun. It was the only song for which a kind of video was used on the video screens otherwise employed for the usual images of the band in performance. I say video, but actually the film was a series of stills of children’s faces, beautifully photographed, reflecting the simple message of hope, or rather the need for hope, in the song. The performance was the tightest of the night, I suppose the need to synchronise closely with the images dictating a controlled performance of his nature. It certainly constituted ensemble playing of a high order.

But for me it also served as an reminder of the fact that, despite being a major hit single, the song received little air-play on the BBC, and the video itself was banned owing to the images connected to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. How odd that seems today when the song itself seems beyond reproach in terms of any ‘message’ involved. And how strange the BBC should have felt the need to protect British citizens from those images of conflict, almost as if reluctant to admit that any such thing was taking place.

As a general rule of thumb it might be useful to suggest that when the great and good decide what’s best for us we remember the words of a wise though rather feisty old Roman: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. This might be very, very loosely Englished as: Whatever you say, say nothing (at least in its implications) but you’ll find a more accurate translation here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Middle-aged White Men Rock Out

We’re now in KL where I’m relaxing a little after a ferociously busy run to the Chinese New Year. I made things even busier for myself by attending a concert on Monday evening, which in some respects wasn’t terribly wise. However, as Dickens wisely makes clear in Hard Times we muth be amuseth so it was off to see, and more importantly listen to, The Police on the Singapore leg of their world tour at the Indoor Stadium.

We were never going to pay silly prices for good seats, so we were seated behind the band, in roughly the same spot we occupied at Sting’s previous show some two or three years back. This makes me sound like a big fan of Sting, which I’m not, though brother-in-law Fuad is, which helps account for our presence on both occasions. However, there are aspects of the solo work I enjoy and I was a fan of The Police on their original emergence as a sort of super group so I wasn’t exactly unhappy to attend the concerts, especially Monday night’s.

If anything I was more looking forward to hearing Copeland and Summers play live, and in this respect I must say the band delivered big time. Copeland is one of those drummers with a rhythmic flexibility leading to genuine funkiness rather than powerhouse pyrotechnics and he was in tremendous form – especially when abandoning the main kit for the percussive fusillade surrounding him, as on Wrapped Around Your Finger, probably the best single piece of the night.

And Andy Summers, all sixty-plus years of him, emerged as one of the finest, most intelligent, guitarists I’ve ever heard in a band context, filling the space with textures that were both rhythmically and harmonically on the money. He took solos sparingly but nailed each one – especially a simple but gorgeous break on King of Pain, which followed the one on the original recording in spirit but blew it away in terms of presence.

The set essentially covered all the big hits, but it was the lesser known material that seemed to me to come off best, its simple lack of familiarity giving them more room to breathe. Driven To Tears and When The World Is Running Down were two of my personal highlights. And it helps that the lyrics for these actually work. For all his other considerable virtues, on occasion Sting has a tin ear for a line. Somebody should have told him how bad the Nabokov line is in Don’t Stand Too Close To Me, almost ruining an otherwise serviceable song. But I can forgive that in the guy who came up with Too many cameras, not enough food in Driven To Tears and got into words what it is like to read the papers on a bad day.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


I'm quite enjoying the sensation of being quite stretched at work since I still feel just about in control and unlikely to snap. The fact that we'll get a few days off in the week ahead for Chinese New Year is the reason that I'm optimistic regarding my resilience (though one unexpected 'issue' on Monday or Tuesday and the world is likely to hear the twang.)

But I can't help but think of colleagues who are, no doubt, as taxed as I, if not more so, and who are showing signs of feeling under the weather health-wise. I counted (in a manner of speaking) three or four sore throats over the weekend not to mention one or two other manifestations of less than optimal well-being. Yet the world of work (I include ways of earning a living of all varieties) seems to assume optimal health as a given on behalf of its all too human instruments. This is not sensible, to the point of being downright dangerous.

One interesting piece of advice for super high achievers: it's very useful to experience a break, one that comes with a resounding twang. I wouldn't say it necessarily makes you stronger, though that is possible, but it certainly makes you humbler, and as Eliot (Tom) observed: humility is endless. (I hope I got that right. I think it's somewhere in The Four Quartets. It'll certainly be humbling if I'm wrong.)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rough Magic

I got back in from work at 8.40 pm. and will need to be back there tomorrow morning at 8.30. The odd thing is that, although extremely tired, I'm enjoying the weekend. It helps that I had the pleasure in the early evening of watching rough runs of two short plays put together by our ACSIS students, one of which we'll be selecting as a piece to develop further as an entry for the drama segment of the Singapore Youth Festival. Watching young people enjoy their acting is one of life's richer experiences and tonight there was a particular sense of joy about the proceedings. I suppose this was to some degree connected with the rough and ready nature of the performances - a sort of musical hall quality.

Of course we'll take this and refine it and come up with something slick and sleek (we hope) but we'll be trying not to lose that rough magic in the (tough) process.

Friday, February 1, 2008


For a few months now I've noticed an odd feature of the weather locally. In the rainy season, which now seems to be a year-round phenomenon, you can generally expect rain in the late afternoon, I suppose as the humidity has built up during the day. (I know this is terribly vague, if not downright incorrect, but I've never claimed to be a meteorologist.) However, Fridays seem to be an exception to this pattern in that the rain regularly strikes around 12.30. How do I know this? This is the time I go to the mosque for prayers.

Now going to prayers might sound a straightforward sort of thing to do but, believe me, it often involves strategic thinking of a high order. Where do I park to be close enough to avoid a major trek, yet ensure a reasonably quick getaway in order to get back to work? Will I get a parking ticket if I'm on double yellow lines for forty-five minutes? Where can I put my slippers in order to be able to retrieve them in reasonable time? What time must I leave for prayers in order to comfortably get a place in the mosque?

So when it's raining, and raining hard, a whole new set of considerations arise to haunt one. If you have an umbrella (because it looked like rain) where can the umbrella be put on the way in? Is it likely to 'disappear' if the rain persists? If you don't have an umbrella, as I didn't today because it actually didn't look at all like rain only five minutes before the heavens opened, how wet are you going to get legging it across the car park to whatever cover exists on the way in? Will you be too wet to actually pray? And what about at the end of prayers? Is there going to be any chance of getting back to work without being drenched?

The joy in the middle of all this is to be in your place, with nowhere to go except where you are, with nothing to do except what there is to do, and nobody to answer to, except the only one ever really worth answering to in anything at all. The desert spring. Something blooming.