"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)
Thursday, 29 April 2010
I like to think that The Ouija Birds are destined for great things. They’ve got it all, they’re young and look great on stage; they sound great live and on disc; the songs are well crafted with depth and charm; they already have a very loyal fan base; and they have more and better hair than any other band I can think of and don’t kid yourself that hair isn’t important in music; Right Said Fred = bald; Take That = hair like your dad; Jimi Hendrix = a kick arse afro. I rest my case. There’s no afros in this band but they do have great hair in a Mighty Boosh kind of way. Hang on, I’ve got caught up talking about their hair. The Ouija Birds have a lot of really compelling songs and like The Transpersonals have an instant classic in “Warships”. I’ve not heard a Oujia Bird song I didn’t like but “Warships”, like the band that brought the song to life, is really something very special. It can only be a matter of time before this band are on the cover of the NME.
So another excellent night of top quality underground, psyched out, life enhancing music at The Louisiana.
One final thought only tenuously connected to this gig. A recent full page article in Venue Magazine talked about how local radio still had something decent and different to offer the listener compared to the failings of national radio. Once again Bristol Introducing was highlighted as an example of good radio, just as Bristol Uncovered had been commended in the past when the failings of Star FM were being written about. Consistently praised and overlooked at the same time. Well done to my friend Richard and his colleagues Sam & Toby for continuing to fly the flag of good radio and good music for little or no reward while their day time counterparts fill the airwaves with pointless, tired speech and music that frankly was already old twenty five years ago. So well done Richard, keep up the good work.
Monday, 26 April 2010
Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition to see with my own eyes an actual Apollo spacecraft. Obviously a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre is my ultimate goal, but till that glorious day I am more than happy with my visit this weekend to the Science Museum in London where I was able to see the Apollo 10 Command Module Capsule. So here I am with Charlie Brown.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, it was important for Mission Control to be able to communicate clearly between the two different spacecraft so giving space ships names wasn't just affectation. Pilots naming their aircraft was something of a tradition in aviation circles, so the Apollo astronauts were allowed to name their spacecraft with the Apollo 10 crew deciding on the call sign Charlie Brown for the CSM and Snoopy for the Lunar Module. Why Charlie Brown and Snoopy? Well, it was the ‘60’s, there was a lot of crazy stuff going on but the mission for Apollo 10, a dry run as it were for the first moon landing by Apollo 11, called for the LM to get close to but not land on the surface of the moon. At its lowest the LM got to just under 9 miles from the lunar surface. While there, they were to “snoop” around the proposed Sea of Tranquillity landing sight. Obviously, one thing lead to another and posterity is left with Charlie Brown and Snoopy associated with one of mankind’s greatest achievements. If it had been Britain not the USA that had first put men on the moon, then we may well have ended up with spacecraft called “Major Clanger” and “Tiny Clanger”, so we really can’t complain.
It would take a couple of days exploring round the Science Museum to see all the wonderful things they have on display but I was there specifically for the CM and the museums other space stuff. With limited time and a limited budget you have to make the most of it which is definitely what I did. However, I did take the time to see some of the other exhibits including a Cray supercomputer...
The Apollo 10 Command Module is the real thing that actually went to the moon and back. However, the museum also has a full scale replica of a Lunar Module.
It was much bigger than I expected and I’m so glad to have seen it, it really helps put some of what I know about the moon landings into some kind of perspective. There was a rather sad looking dummy astronaut standing by the LM.
I always think dummies look a little sad and slightly pathetic, however good the rest of the display. Even this one has a somewhat pitiable air about him. However, I also really like that in a display. That’s why I love small town museums that are past their prime, with displays that are falling apart, moth eaten stuffed animals, that kind of thing.
Another world beating and successful British achievement that had the plug pulled on it by short sighted politicians. They can swindle money out of us for duck islands and mortgages that don’t exist but when it comes to investing money into something really worthwhile for the nation, forget it. Another display that caught my attention was the replica of the Huygens probe that went to Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission.
I couldn’t help but notice that some of the chandeliers in the cafe at the VA looked a lot like it. Or is it just me?
At this point I need to say two big THANK YOUs. First to my lovely partner Mrs Kitsch...
Also thanks to our friend Pete who pulled strings and used contacts to get us to London by train on the cheap and generally acted as our guide round the city. Even though he kept calling me a geek (OK, he may have a point) we bought him doughnuts, a fitting reward.
My record player is still in the box from when we moved but I found somewhere online to hear the tracks and not only does it sound great but I discovered there is a volume 2!!! On this first volume, the front cover shows astronaut Dave Scott during a stand up EVA (spacewalk) during the Apollo 9 mission. The back cover is also from the Apollo 9 mission, being a shot of the CSM (Command and Service Module) whose call sign was Gumdrop taken by the crew of the LM (Lunar Module), whose call sign was Spider.
Why did the crew, Commander Jim McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Rusty Schweickart, choose these names for their spacecraft? The CSM was so called because of a combination of its shape and the fact that it arrived at the Kennedy Space Centre covered in its blue protective wrapping from North American Aviation who built it. With the LM’s call sign Spider, the crew once again named the craft after how they perceived the shape of the vehicle. There was a serious side to spacecraft having names as it avoided confusion during communication between the two spacecraft and Mission Control. This was the first time NASA manned spacecraft had names since Gemini 3’s Molly Brown; however, the NASA public relations people were not too happy about these less than serious names. Following the Apollo 10 crew naming its craft after Charles M. Schulz Peanuts characters (more about that in the next blog) the NASA people got their way for more serious sounding names for future craft.
Another important step on the journey to the first lunar landing, Apollo 9 had its own firsts, being the first manned flight of the CSM together with the LM. The crew spent 10 days in low Earth orbit in March 1969 (launch 3rd March, splashdown 13th March) during which they were the first crew to perform a manned flight of a LM. To do this they had to dock the CSM with the LM and extract it from the Saturn booster, also a first. After testing the LM in flight, McDivitt and Schweickart then docked with the CSM where their colleague Scott (the original Scotty?) the CMS Pilot, awaited their return; so this was also the first time that two manned vehicles docked in space. The crew also carried out a number of other tests critical to landing men on the moon including Schweickart’s EVA wearing the new space suit with a backpack life support system designed for lunar EVAs.
John Keating, like many others, was obviously impressed and inspired by all of this. "John Keating Space Experience" contains space age versions of "I Feel The Earth Move", "Rocket Man" and the Star Trek theme alongside some of his own out of this world compositions like "The Unknown Planet", "Prelude To Earthrise" and "Space Agent". His album stands as a testament to not only the cutting edge music of the time but also in its use of Apollo on the album cover, it celebrates the progress of mankind as we reach for the stars.
Saturday, 24 April 2010
Mrs Kitsch said last week why don’t you paint a deer? As ever she proved to be my inspiration. I like deer and we’ve got loads of kitsch deer ornaments at home but I hadn’t thought if painting one, at least not one that wasn’t just a skull. So, grabbing the deer by the horns so to speak I gave it a go and the result is the picture above. I did this in just a day. It’s 17cm x 21.5cm including the frame which I deliberately left bare to enhance the wood/forest feel of the piece. I did the grass/leaves last as the piece was meant to be just shades of brown but I thought about the forest paintings of Rousseau and thought, what the heck I’ll add some grass/leaves.
This next one (above) I’ve had hanging around for ages, I just couldn’t think how to finish it. I had the cattle skull, the cactus and the yellow/black boarder but there was a lot of red space which needed something, I just couldn’t figure out what. It’s been sitting over to one side where I could see it while I was working but out of the way. Then last night I thought about the dots thing again and decided to try that. It’s another small picture, just 10cm x10cm.
And finally for the moment another scorpion picture called “Evolution: Fact of Life”. It is also 17cm x 21.5cm including the frame, which I did paint on this one. The three flowers at the top of the painting each have slight variations from one another and represent both the process of evolution and the three towns of Cactus County. I tried to make the “Fact of Life” bit like an official stamp. This one I started a few weeks ago but stalled with the top of the picture after I had done the scorpion, chillis, blue flower and pineapples.
I usually have a rough idea of the main thing I want in the picture but not always the finer details like what words I’ll use, if I use any at all. A partially finished picture sometimes suggests itself what needs doing next, or I just sit there looking at it for ages trying to think something up. It’s hard when you restrict yourself to certain themes or in my case avoiding certain themes; I will not paint anything that promotes religion or belief in the supernatural. As most Day of the Dead art works are full of religious symbols this means I have to really think about what to include.
Also my lack of skill doesn’t help; I keep putting off painting things as I don’t think I can do it, then I have a go and it kind of works. So what if it doesn’t look anatomically correct, it’s naive art and being correct isn’t as important as what the painting has to say. Anyway, like the large eagle I am doing at the moment, I am spreading my artistic wings a bit and so far I’m happy with the results.
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
It looks like I have got a new job but it doesn’t start properly for a couple of weeks, although I have already had to start doing some work towards it. How will it work out and what exactly am I doing? That still remains to be seen but I’ll keep you posted when I know more myself but it looks promising so far.
One of the Blackbirds in the garden is in a very bad way. His right wing is drooping down somewhat, there are feathers missing from his back and his right eye looks very bad. He seems to be using his left eye more when feeding. His behaviour is now very different to how Blackbirds normally behave in the garden; he hides in the undergrowth and behind the potted plants for very long periods of time and when he does venture out he is very wary, and Blackbirds are pretty wary at the best of times. He ran for cover yesterday on hearing another Blackbird give an alarm call and didn’t come out again for ages. He is still feeding and drinking and is able to fly a bit too, so he may survive. However, I didn’t see him at all today. Because of his injuries and his hiding behaviour I have named him Rogue Male, after the Geoffrey Household thriller. I really hope he makes it.
We’ve been getting regular visits at night from at least one of the many urban foxes that live round here. I’ve seen Mr Fox briefly a couple of times over two nights but his presence is mostly obvious from the large thank you messages he keeps leaving in the garden. It’s like having all the disadvantages of having a dog but none of the advantages. He’s also eating the apple pieces I leave out for the Blackbirds. Half an apple would usually last the birds a couple of days or more but now they’re gone over night, as is anything else left out that is vaguely edible. I wouldn’t mind so much if I saw more of the fox but he’s very selective about when he comes to the garden – mostly when I’m not around to see him.
Still no news about the MRI scan. I’m not that worried as I am now convinced that my foot problem is just that, a problem with my foot but I’ll feel a lot better about it when I do get the results.
I’m loving this good weather and have been out for a couple of walks to at least get some benefit but mostly I’ve been indoors painting. I’ve done so much lately and tried a few new things too. My biggest fans Ben & Caroline have been such a boost. I’m still not convinced there are going to be many people who will want to have a Cactus County original on their wall at home but at least I do feel that I might have something going on here. My better half of course has always been hugely supportive and frankly without her I would never have picked up a paint brush.
While I’ve been painting I’ve been continuing to work my way through the CD collection. I now have a much better idea of the kind of music I like and don’t like. Out are math rock, electronica, dance, and what I would have to call rock, things like Jet and The Mooney Suzuki. I kind of liked that stuff to a degree before but now I just haven’t got the time for it. Much more to my liking are Americana, dark alternative indie, the better Brit Pop bands, stoner rock and doom metal. I’ve got rid of so many things I thought I would hang on to and held on to a few things I thought I was going to get rid of. I’m finding I’m giving a much more sympathetic listen to American sounding bands than to British ones. I’ve always been drawn to things American and now that I no longer have to give everything a fair hearing but instead select just what feels good in my own ears, I’m hearing things in a slightly different way. I still haven’t got back that essential DJ quality of wanting to share music you love with another person. If that feeling ever returns I know I’ll be desperate to get back on the radio. Not anywhere near that yet though.
I finished “Deke!” the autobiography of Deke Slayton at the end of last week. He was one of the Original Seven Mercury Astronauts, who finally got into space as the docking module pilot of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. I really enjoyed this book which was co-written by Michael Cassutt. Without being really insulting he calls things and people how he sees them and the man’s honesty is to be applauded. As one of the original Seven, Deke was there from the start of the US manned space programme right through to the start of the shuttle programme. This means he was intimately involved with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, ASTP and the Space Shuttle. He flew more than 60 combat missions over Europe and Japan in WWII, was a test pilot, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Minnesota and was instrumental in picking the crews for Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and the shuttle test flights. No mean feat for one man. I would definitely recommend this book without hesitation. You’ll learn a lot about those early US manned space programme days and if you already know a fair bit, then this book will put some of what you already know in a new perspective. Deke is the man!
Thought I’d take a break from space for a little while and am currently reading “Cicero: Selected Letters” which I got for a pound in the British Heart Foundation bookshop last week. I’m still looking for the “Letters of Pliny the Younger” but this will do till I find a second hand copy of that. Ancient Rome and space, my choice of reading material is eclectic, if nothing else.
Suggested reading: “Deke!” by Donald K Slayton & Michael Cassutt.
I feel a need to explain what’s happening here. The title is “For All That I Do Not Know”: the moths are attracted to the light but they don’t know why; the dog is watching them and has no idea what’s going on; the space picture represents all that we do not know about the universe, science and, for all but a handful of men, what it’s like to walk on the moon. You may recognise it as a picture I’ve done before, it’s called “Commander Cernan Ponders His Final Words As The Last Apollo Astronaut On The Moon” and I included it in this picture as Caroline really liked it. I like the idea of having pictures within pictures and may use this idea again.
These next two I had a lot of trouble taking a photo of as there is glass in the frames and it kept reflecting. Anyway, this photo will have to do for the moment. I painted the frames too by the way. What we have here is “Cactus Motel” and “Evolution”. Those of you familiar with Cactus County may recall that one of the three towns of the county is called Evolution (well done if you did) and it’s where the mineral mines are located, although there is no reference to the mines or mining in this picture as it celebrates the fact of evolution rather than the town which bears its name. And yes it is a fact not simply a theory, unlike certain other non-science based ideas which are insane and do not have any scientific evidence to back them up. Get with the programme people, you know who you are.
I can recommend the Cactus Motel, which you’ll find in the town of Cactus. They have very reasonably priced rooms, which are clean, comfortable and very nicely and uniquely decorated.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
I had just parked the car when Richard Pitt, my old broadcasting buddy and still the presenter of BBC Bristol Introducing, pulled up in his car. Nice timing. He had arranged for me to be on the guest list, always nice, and as soon as we got into the venue we were meeting people from the Bristol music scene that we both know. This always happens to us at gigs as we are lucky enough to know so many of the bands from this fine city.
Darker Dogs were gathered together and we joined them, so I talked to Caroline Martin & Ben Goode about their upcoming nuptials and my maybe doing the artwork for Caroline’s new album. I think I might finally have an idea for it, so I need to get started on that pretty quickly.
Then we take our seats for tonight’s opening band, the tremendous twosome known as Bucky who do fast, short, loud songs on subjects that most other bands just wouldn’t think of. “Horses And Cars” for instance is about the ill-fated Ford Edsel and that in the late 1950’s early 1960’s some car retailers offered a free horse if you bought the car. This is true and Bucky have a great song about it. They were really on form tonight and the crowd loved them. They reworked a couple of their own songs to pay tribute to The Hinkley Veltones too which of course went down very well.
Next up was Howlin’ Lord. Mark Legassick is Howlin’ Lord and he is a real Lord, having bought a title off the internet. He used to perform as a one man band but these days has someone else playing drums for him and also a bass player. It’s country blues and it kicks arse. I liked what he did as a one man outfit a few years ago but he has improved and matured over the last couple of years and is really rather good indeed.
Then it’s the main attraction, The Hinkley Veltones. When they launched the first album two years ago they were a three piece, Steven Marr, Harry Santer and James Marlow. Recently they added Matt Blackwell on bass to the line up and on this new album and for tonight’s launch they’ve extended the line up to include Toby Field on keyboards (who also presents Bristol Introducing with Richard now and is keyboard player for the excellent Roger Tarry/ Darker Dogs); Chipper Nicholls on cello; Mark Legassick on harmonica; plus Tom Fennell and Luke Spanton, one on trumpet the other on accordion but I don’t know which does which. Anyway, the overall effect of all these extra musicians is quite something to behold, even at The Cube with its notorious sound problems.
I’d heard an unmastered version of the album last year when it was called “A Sleeping Curse”. It’s now called “Moths” which I think is a better title, and is named after one of the tracks. I’ll listen to the new album this week, I haven’t had time tonight, but I don’t suppose it’ll be much different to the unmastered version I already know and love.
Tonight playing live with their extended line up The Hinkley Veltones were magnificent. I think they did all the tracks from the new album plus the two Veltone classics “Man Of My Intentions” and “Baby Don’t Leave Me” off the first album. There are loads of great tracks on this new album but this band have already left their mark on the music lovers of Bristol and beyond with those two tracks. “Man Of My Intentions” would have to be in my top ten of tracks and “Baby Don’t Leave Me” is right on its heels.
But I don’t want to take anything away from this new album. Like the previous Veltones offering, it’s atmospheric and haunting, full of emotion and depth, and it rocks. If you don’t know what they sound like then I urge you to go to their Myspace site and check them out. It’s dark, country tinged, alternative rock, at least I think it is, it’s quite difficult to place it in a genre. It has its own genre really and it’s what the guys in the band call “nuclear and western” which makes perfect sense once you hear it. I bloody love this band and I really want everyone else to love them too. So go get yourself a copy of “Moths” and “Tied To The Mast” because you’ll be doing yourself a big favour.
Suggested listening: “Moths” and “Tied To the Mast” by The Hinkley Veltones