Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

Tortoise, 29 May 2016, Feierwerk, Munich

20160529_212341For once, the recommendation for this gig did not come from Jools Holland, rather Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music. Maconie choreographs an alternative music show on Sunday evenings. Quite a lot of it is “unlistenable” – as my partner reminds me often – but the nature of alternative music is that it is sometimes challenging. A few weeks ago Maconie highlighted the work of veteran musicians collectively known as Tortoise. Now, it is fair to say I’d never heard of them prior to an interview with a couple of the members  of the band; namely, Dan Bitney, most instruments; and John Herndon, percussion, keyboards. Maconie also played a couple of tracks from their most recent album, The Catastrophist (cover, below right).

So, what do we know of the band? They are a five-piece, “post rock” band. They have been together for 25 years and released 7 albums. They hail from Chicago. The three other members are Doug McCombs (guitars, percussion, stands at the back, mostly), John McEntire (percussion, electronic jiggery-pokery)  and Jeff Parker (guitar, bass, percussion). Post rock, in this context, seems to mean, jazz, progressive rock, electronics and a lot of percussion. It also means a bunch of musicians who have many simultaneous projects, some of which intersect with other members.

Before the band arrive on stage, one sees a curious array of instruments and order. For example, there are two drum kits both at the front. There is a xylophone and an electronic panel that also acts as a percussion instrument, itself hit with “mallets” (the latter is most evident on the track entitled Shake hands with danger). An array of guitars and three notional keyboards, one of which is connected to a compuTortoiseter enabling McEntire’s in-play jiggery-pokery. Suffice to say I have never been up so close to percussionists.

Of the music, I cannot really comment. I do not know the band’s music beyond this performance. And through their 100 minute set, we were spoken to twice. Once to say, Thank you for coming. And once to say, goodbye. The set was exclusively instrumental, so there were no lyrical clues. But it being the Catastrophist tour, I imagine most pieces were from the album. (I have subsequently bought the album and will listen carefully.) Don’t get me wrong, the lack of banter with the audience is not a reflection of some contempt for the audience (in a Bob Dylan way, for example). Rather, they are an intense band. The concentration is palpable. After the gig, I spoke to Herndon and there was not a gram of arrogance. He signed my CD simply with the word Thanks!

Venues are important. It is fair to say that Tortoise are unlikely to fill the Munich Philharmonie like Gregory Porter did a couple of weeks ago. But actually Feierwerk in Munich is that intimate venue that would have suited Porter. And this being a largely middle-aged audience, it was all very civilised and focused on the music. We were all being transported somewhere unexpected. This was impeccably orchestrated by five blokes who know each other very well. Extraordinarily, between each track there was a musical chairs – virtually all the musicians played all of the instruments.

The band play their final gig of this tour on 30 May in Frankfurt. They are back in Europe in July.



The 65 per cent rule

Plain cigarette packaging in AustraliaFinally, cigarette packets in the UK will look like this once the current stock has been sold! Brands will no longer draw in users. Only nicotine and addiction.

However, readers of this blog know only too well that in Germany, cigarette advertising continues for inexplicable reasons. But it is about to change considerably. The 65 per cent rule comes from the European Commission and states that 65 per cent of any cigarette packet must be covered with warnings about the lethality of the contents in all member states. So, take Marlboro, with it’s You Decide campaign (right).20160503_072655 The campaign posters and the packet is all about the brand. Currently, about one-third of the packet contains the warning Rauchen kann tödlich sein (smoking can be deadly). So, that warning will have to be doubled on both sides. How much room left for the brand? We’ll see how the advertising responds to this challenge. At the moment, there are no new posters on railway stations or on the side of the roads to evaluate!

Gregory Porter, 15 May 2016, Munich Philharmonie

Gregory PorterHere we go again. Friday evening watching Later with Jools Holland on BBC TV, next in front of the very same artist two weeks later. This time, Gregory Porter and his band playing in Munich.

Gregory porter is billed as a jazz artist, but I suspect in order to sell out large venues – which he does as effortlessly as he sings – he probably needed to do a bit of cross-over. We did a bit of homework by listening to his album, “Take me to the Alley” a few times. And then we were ready.

The first thing to say is that the Philharmonie in Munich is not a great venue for amplified music. For one song he sang 20160515_200755unsupported and there was no problem hearing – we were up in the heavens (having come late to the ticket-buying party). The second thing to note is that for this tour at least, Porter is accompanied by a fabulous band (Albert Chop Crawford on piano; Tivon Pennicott with alto sax; Emanuel Harrold on drums and Aaron James on double bass), each of whom is given a slot to demonstrate their individual talents. So much so that Harrold himself is the last man on the stage after the concert. Almost reluctant to give up his drum kit. Third, this was an audience that did not seem to want to listen – far too keen to cheer at inappropriate moments and seemingly oblivious to the subtlety – or not – of Porter’s lyrics. More of which below.

So what of Porter’s set? Three albums – two definitively jazz and the latest – balanced with other complementary tunes that he makes his own (Papa was a Rolling Stone, for example). Take me to the Alley is a fantastic song. It is more of a canvas on which he lays his singing prowess and his social conscience. Alleys are often insalubrious and the people to be found there down on their luck. Porter himself has no privileged background, so one gets the sense that his empathy is real and genuine. The offer to “relax in my garden” has a reassuring congruence to it.

There is also a darker side. I remember many years ago when singles charts were important to me, hearing for the firstLou_Rawls_1995 time Lou Rawls’ timeless classic, You’ll never find another love like mine. For many years I did not listen to the lyric closely enough to understand that it just might be about infidelity. Rawls’ voice just pushed the listener away from that possibility (though the intonation becomes more and more bitter as the song progresses). Why else would his ‘Baby’ contemplate leaving?

Porter with his song Don’t be a fool is more explicit on the topic. The scenario here is that he admits to being an adulterer, asks for forgiveness, trust and to fall in love again. I have to say that as a song it makes me feel uncomfortable. I cannot think that trust can somehow, through a song, be magically re-established.

It is not a great point to finish on. Porter is a consummate artist – the two hours glided past. Maybe I should have just cheered like everyone around me and not tried to listen too hard?

Next week we are off to see Tortoise. Watch this space!


Will the EU let the destruction happen?

For reasons that I cannot explain, I have been affected by the so-called Islamic State’s destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Palmyra in Syria (below right). The destruction of ancient artefacts for religious reasons somehow seems personal, and that is not diminishing IS’s penchant for killing that seems part of their ideology. But why should the destruction of ancient temples which I have not visited bother me?


Yesterday the Guardian newspaper ran a story about the impending destruction of another World Heritage Site, this time in Europe and by a member state of the EU. The site in question is the Białowieża forest (left). It covers an area of 150,000 hectares in Poland. It straddles the border with Belarus, where it is entirely protected as a nature park. It is home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and 62 species of mammals – among them Europe’s largest, the bison (left).

The government has passed a law allowing 188,000 cubic metres of trees to be felled by 2021. It is argued that some of the trees – maybe even 1 million spruce trees – are infested with bark beetle and are dying. The felling, however, seems to go way beyond what is necessary to contain the infestation – assuming it needs dealing with at all. Nature is pretty good at regeneration.

The Polish government seems to have put a price on the forest. The logging in Białowieża is expected to raise about 700m złotys (£124m); however, some see it as the thin edge of the wedge. Undermine the viability and diversity of the forest and that might pave the way for extensive and lucrative tree clearances (as if what is proposed is not damaging enough).

So, what is the link to the so-called Islamic State? Well IS was not a member of the EU, or even the UN, so negotiation over the Palmyra site wereTemple_of_Bel,_Palmyra_02 difficult to arrange. There was not much sanction at that point in time. They willingly filmed the destruction for posterity, keen as they are to share their violence with us. Poland is an EU member state. Sanction is there if it chooses to exercise it. We shall see.

But the story did help me with the question of why it might bother me. Both sites are ancient. The trees or the relics – if they could speak to us – could tell us much about ourselves, our history and origins. I know they cannot. Both are irreplaceable. Take them away and they cannot be replaced. With forest, the whole eco-system is lost. The flora and fauna will die. That is also an issue. With the ancient relics, we erase our link to history, ancestors and the humbling that often comes with huge ancient buildings erected without, at the very least, lifting technology. Wonderment, that is the connection.

In the comments accompanying the article in the Guardian newspaper (link above), one comment suggested that countries with elected governments can do what they like with their land. And there lies the problem. Human beings believe the land and its content to be theirs. They are resources to be exploited. They are very rarely viewed as there to be protected, even though protecting the forest sustains the environment on which we depend. Humanity often struggles to see itself as made up of organic life forms. Rather humanity locates itself as some superior entity removed from its place in nature.

Will the EU act?


Bison in forest: Herr stahlhoefer, Wikipedia

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, Bernard Gagnon, Wikipedia



What is to be done?

Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)What a depressing day this is, despite the sunshine. I have been trying to hide from the reality of Donald Trump being on the ballot for the US presidential election in November. But last night’s victory in Indiana and the withdrawal of the two remaining opponents from the Republican nomination guarantees his candidacy. And with it, the very real prospect of power.

Back in the UK, the punitive Trade Union legislation entered the statute book. It is a bare-faced attempt to outlaw strikes (in the public sector) by forcing a minimum of a 50 per cent turnout for strike ballots and a 40 per cent positive vote amongst those eligible to vote. Let me get my head around that. 40 per cent of the eligible voters have to be in favour even if they choose not to vote. Basically, choosing not to vote counts as a “no” in a strike ballot. Put another way, very few of our Members of Parliament meet those criteria for their own election.

What else? Ah yes, another unsavoury character, John Whittingdale (right), the inappropriately appointed Culture Minister, isWhittingdale desperate to abolish the BBC. Now I’m no lover of the BBC – with the exception of its factual output, essentially BBC4 – but abolition leaves us to the mercy of commercial media and commercial agendas. Whittingdale has already been kite flying arguing that the BBC should not be able to go head-to-head with commercial rivals; for example, Strictly Come Dancing against the X-Factor on a Saturday evening. He wants to top-slice the BBC licence fee to give to commercial broadcasters in the interests of fairness. The BBC has already had to subsidise pensioners with the free licence and take on the World Service, traditionally the responsibility of the Foreign Office. But last week during a Cambridge Conservative Association speech he described the demise of the BBC as a “tempting prospect”.

Pictures: Donald Trump By Michael Vadon (Wikipedia)

John Whittingdale –


The Gauloises naughty couple in a bath are back

20160503_073103Here’s a thing, this week I walked past a cigarette advertisement for Gauloises, as you do (in Germany, that is). I dismissed it as one that I already have cataloged and lampooned. But yesterday I was stood on the platform at a S-Bahn station in Munich and read the tagline on the displayed poster and thought perhaps this was not the original advertisement. And so it has proved (see below right). My take on the original wasDSCF1092 that death by toxic tobacco seemed not to be enough for this couple, maybe a STD might help. This is because the tagline suggested they had just met and decided to have a bath together in a hotel room, as you do.

The revised tagline suggests that they already know each other and they have decided to have a bath together because of “stau in Badzimmer” – translated by me as congestion in the bathroom. I am wondering if this is evidence of the impact of this blog on the advertising industry. So shocked were they at my interpretation that they have reworked it to make the main characters seem a little less promiscuous? Or not.

It nearly slipped past me.

On the plus side…a rant

LeicesterLeicester City today or next week will win the English Premier League. Good for them. The league does not lie and it is so refreshing to see a real team challenge and win. On the downside, my team, Hull City, trying to get back into the Premier League (having been dumped out of the league by Leicester’s failure to be relegated last year) cannot even beat an already relegated side in the run-off to the play-offs in the second league. For non-English readers, worry not, this is all irrelevant to life in general. However, it is clear that my team’s coach cannot motivate his squad of players like Claudio Ranieri can his. Lessons there.

Good also for the mis-named junior doctors striking in the UK. The amount of vile verbiageJeremy_Hunt_Official coming from the British Government at the moment against doctors is par for the course, but good on the doctors for standing up for principles – their’s and our’s. The British Government is dismantling the National Health Service and handing it over to private sector cherry-picking businesses. Jeremy Hunt (right), the egregious English health minister accused the doctors of making the strike political. If I am not mistaken, his government has outlawed political strikes, so by virtue of it happening at all it cannot be political. Equally if anyone has made it political it is Mr Hunt. This is turning out to be a battle of wills between right and wrong. Next thing we’ll find armed police trying to break through pickets just like Thatcher did in the 1980s against another class of workers fighting for their rights and livelihoods.

southernTalking about strikes, last week those of us in the south of England had our journeys to work disrupted by a strike by conductors on the trains. A 24 hour strike straddling two days caused chaos and major inconvenience. Just like strikes are supposed to do. Good for the conductors trying to block attempts by the train company to change their terms and conditions and turn them into revenue protection officers rather than train managers – responsible for safety and customer service on board. As a season ticket holder on Southern, I favour the conductors absolutely. This is a company that treats its customers with utter contempt. By that measure, employees must be utterly despised.

There is a new phrase going around at the moment like a bad smell. I’ve heard it from my own employer and people involved in the junior doctors’ strike. To paraphrase: “This is a democratically elected government, so…”. To translate, this Government led by a bunch of thieving, self-seeking, lying white men, can do whatever they want because they secured 37 per cent of the national vote a year ago. Please, democracy is not just a vote every 5 years. Democracy is a process. A manifesto commitment is not law. We have two chambers of Parliament, scrutiny committees and courts to test the robustness and fit-for-purposeness of proposed laws. Bad law is untested law and comes from Parliamentarians who do not understand process or those who are self-serving. Or both. It is a duty to oppose poor law whether it was in a manifesto or not.

Pall Mall couples and trite taglines

20160429_190410 Apologies about the quality of this photo, it even has my image in the reflection, but for the time being it makes the point. Advertisers are so inconsiderate putting their posters behind plastic.

Pall Mall again has a couple – handsome bearded man with cigarette and blonde woman. From what I understand of the tagline, the hole in the filter solves most problems, all wishes granted. Seemingly.

The wish of longevity, I sense, is not granted by this toxic innovation. But there you go.