Blog March 2006 - AndyPryke.com
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Tue 28 Mar 2006

The Courtesy Group, Misty's Big Adventure and The Guilemots

OK. 1st off, guess which band drew me to this gig at The Glee Club? Yep, of course, it was Misty's.

The Glee "Main" room was packed. It's a seated venue, and it has (or claims to have) quite a strict door policy. Doors opened (to a queue) at 7.30, and if you hadn't picked up tickets for this sell out gig by 8.15, you're told that they will be released! Whether this happens or not I don't know. Anyway, everyone turned up pretty early, and the room was almost completely full by 8.

The Courtesy Group came on in darkness, with strange single note sounding which I wasn't sure whether they were art-rock music or just a final few bits of tuning up. After a minute or two, the lead singer arrived and we were treated to a (very loud) sequence of poems and punky/rocky/art-rock songs. I liked the poetry and the performance. The lead singer and (new, 2nd gig) guitarist were both dressed in bright, highly patterned shirts and had the same hair cut, leading me to wonder if there was some sort of 2 for one mania going on. I was glad to see the group, and would definately see them again, if only to help me make more sense of the lyrics and poems.

Misty's were next on, after a short interval, but for a while, it looked as if the sound desk wasn't going to switch off the reggee tracks they were playing, and the band had to stand around on stage waiting. After this, and the ear-blistering volume of the 1st band, I started to wonder about the sound desk, but no, overall we got an excellent sound. Gareth's vocals were good and clear, all the instruments seemed well balanced, and the additional vocals came through very well - except in one or two places (Bland Age never seems to get enough volume for these). My friend suggested seperate mikes for vocals and brass, maybe that's an idea, although I imagine it's pretty complicated to manage already!

I've never seem Misty's play a gig where the audience has to remain seated, and rarely seen them play to audiences where the majority of people are seeing them for the first time. I had spotted a couple of people wearing Misty's badges on my way in, so I know they'd attracted some keen fans, but the Glee attracts a strange audience. A lot of people that I've never seen before (Birmingham is a city of one million people, in a conurbation of 2M, but you know what I mean. I get the impression that a lot of people who rarely go to live events come to the Glee, and a lot of people who live outside the city. Maybe it's just my prejudices!

Sitting there (the 1st Misty's gig at which I've not danced), I got quite a different perspective. For a start, I was thinking... "What if I was seeing them for the first time, what would I think", and watching the audience reaction quite closely. What I saw for the first couple of songs was a kind of open-mouthed awe from some people, as if they couldn't quite believe what they were seeing and hearing.

A typical Misty's gig these days starts with a spoken word prayer/dream from Gareth, followed by car crash with sound effects, some humourous stuff I won't spoil, and then into Misty's Big Adventure (the song). This could leave the audience slightly stunned, so there's absolutely no gap before we're into an All Things Bright and Beautiful parody, which is the intro to Evil. Good audience response, though the diversity of what they've heard is pretty high, they've had chance to note how tight the band are. (That's musically tight. I'm not suggesting that they're all drunk!) Next The Story of Love, quickly into Smart Guys Wear Ties, the psychadelic intro to Two Brains.

Now a shadow falls (though EroticVolvo didn't turn into his black suited "shadow self"), and we're into a Serious Thing which I really think is one of my current faves, despite it being so emotionally desolate. This is the beautifully instrumented sound of a tortured heart. And, if you're not feeling particularly tortured, it's fun to have the big change of mood (and dance style) from Misty's mostly up-beat sound.

It was getting a bit hard to sit still when we were served up It never stop, it never rests, it never sleeps, the one which goes "diddly diddly, diddly diddly, diddly diddly dee". Very good And another nicely titled track, a newish one at that We do, we do, we do (did I get that name right)? It's got a great rhythmic "bippy boppy" keyboard part, the whole sound being well paced, with little "suprises" which just seem to fit. You can really see how together and practiced the band is in tracks like this, where the greater regions of quiet make the split second timing stand out.

Next: The Wising up Song, with it's wild "free-form jazz" like sections, ending in a parable. Finally, we're into the Bland Age, another new-ish song, humourous with some spoken word bits.

OK, what I just wrote there is what's know in the trade as a "set list", that's it, "set list", but it is a pretty typical one for Misty's currently.

(....Continued at a later date, with more on Guilemotts and a couple of other bits about Misty's....)

Sat 25 Mar 2006

Farmers Market, Jibbering Coffee and Missed Misty's

Today must be the 4th Saturday of the month, as it's time for the Moseley Farmer's Market again. Once again, mushrooms were top of my list, but this time, the stall wasn't selling the horse mushrooms on their own. Instead I bought a mix of shiitake, yellow oyster, and horse mushrooms. The mix included something else, which seemed pretty much like your standard button mushroom. Also goats cheese and a nice red cabbage, so now I need some red cabbage recipies, or alternatively I could do some red cabbage chemistry.

After the market, I popped into Jibbering Records for a coffee - I always forget they have a little cafe. They do toasties too!

Having seen Misty's on Thursday, and planning to see them again on Tuesday at the Glee, I decided to skip their free Gigbeth gig at TheSanctuary. Pete Ashton went, and you can see his pictures of Gigbeth on Flickr.

Fri 24 Mar 2006

Gigbeth 2006

Today is the first day of Gigbeth 2006 - lots of free gigs in Digbeth. Unfortunately their website (http://www.gigbeth.com ) is a bit crap. There's no list of the gig for a start. Well, if you decide to go to downloads and download half a meg of PDF file there is. Otherwise you can only pick a single venue / time from a drop down menu. So they're no easy way to see what's happening, and it's virtually impossible to look up from a mobile phone or other device!Grrrr. Crap web design really gets to me, especially when it will impact on the number of people attending what sounds like a great event. So I tried sending a nice note via the contact form on the web only to find.... it doesn't work, at least not in Firefox.

Anyway, I've put the list of gigs online. At least I'll be able to access it without having to print out the PDF and lug it around.

Update: Pete Ashton pointed out to me tha the times and dates from the PDF brochure differ from the individual gig listings (also on http://www.gigbeth.com).

I'd suggest you check both, wet your finger, stick it in the air and try and guess which are right.

WarehouseCafe (again!)

Ate at the Warehouse Cafe, from their evening specials menu this time (as far as I know, they're open Thurs, Fri, Sat evenings now). As a starter I had very nice slow roasted garlic with cream cheese (vegan or cow) as a starter - hmmmm. You get the whole bulb, about a dozen cloves, with the top sliced off and slowly roasted until the flesh is soft and light brown and delicious. Followed up with Gado Gado, an indonesian salad of bean sprouts, red pepper, white radish and carrot strips, with spicy peanut sauce and crispy fried tofu. Loved that sauce! I mangaged to squeeze in a sweet of gooey but tasty pear and apply tart thingie, while my companions tucked into an ice cream bombe with cherries and a rich dark chocolate sauce.

Thurs 23 Mar 2006

Misty's Big Adventure at the LittleCivic , Wolverhampton

Never been to the LittleCivic for a gig before - I know it as the place you have to pick up tickets to get into the WulfrunHall. I arrived just in time to catch the end of the "3rd Support" band, but didn't really hear enough of them to comment. Then, after swiftly purchasing an EroticVolvo finger puppet, the RetroSpankees took the stage. The sound quality at the back of the room was pretty poor - the LittleCivic has 2 speakers up in the air which are aimed at the sound desk. The advantage is that the volume at the front is lower (you're not in the path of the speaker), and the sound quality is better there too.

The Retro's were good as always, and having seen them several times (and having the CDs), I knew some of the songs. They seemed to go down well with the rest of the audience too.

There were some definite Misty's fans in - lots of newly bought t-shirts in evidence (yellow being the most popular), and some wild dancing. EroticVolvo was very popular as always, coming down into the audience, cavorting, rolling around on the floor and disappearing amongst the crowd. Erotic Volvo's Shadow also made an appearance for Serious Thing.

  • Erotic Volvo about to dance:
    Erotic Volvo about to dance

Tue 21 Mar 2006

Don Giovanni, New Municipal Bank Headquarters, Broad St

Another sell out performance for Birmingham Opera Company (http://www.birminghamopera.org.uk/ ) at a weird location. Last years was at "the old abandoned ice-rink" - sounds like something from Scooby Doo. Unfortunately I didn't manage to go. This year, we're at the old (Lloyds?) bank at the city end of Broad St. I've never seen it open, and didn't really notice it as a building. It's best know by it's unrine-scented cashpoint set slightly back from the road. However, inside is a different matter...

The main (banking) hall is faced with white marble, in a very distinctive 1930's style. On the cross-beams are mottos such as "Saving is the mother of riches", and the date (MCMXXXIII). There are also slightly strange shields on the walls, which presumably had some meaning to the commisioners, designers or architects of the room.

  • The Banking Hall:
    The Banking Hall

  • Saving is the Mother of all Riches:
    Saving is the Mother of all Riches

  • Shields:
    ShieldShield 2
    Shield 3Shield 4

When we enter, we do so not from the front entrance with it's revolving door and stained glass, but the back way, down a rather dodgy looking alley. We are let in in groups, and I walk along a corridor past a glass fronted office in which two people are praying. Suddenly they leap at the window and bang hard against it. A series of slightly disturbing performances are visible as we progress.

Entering into the main room, a funeral director greets us, shakes our hands and thanks us for coming. We're told to move around the space. It's quite busy already, and something is happening. There seems to be a funeral service going on. After a while, a congregation make itself visible, moving forward from amongst the crowd of audience and gathers, hymn books in hand to sing Jerusalem. Some of the audience join in. At some point, we sit, on light coloured wooden coffins which litter the space. It's a bit of a squeeze.

More action starts. A man (Don Giovanni) and a woman (Donna Anna) are together. His servant (Leporello) keeps watch outside. The priest, her father, discovers them and is killed by Don Giovanni.

At some point those seated in the centre of the space and told to move. Although not in constant flux, there is an ebb and flow to the audience - being brought forward, seated, standing up. The words of Don Giovanni and Leporello are clear and in a nicely rhythmic and balanced translation. Generally demotic, sometimes funny, and often evil. They are the cornerstone of the piece, their part to be strong and bold. To Don Giovanni in particular, the others are just so many dolls to be toyed with.

The space is very well used, and we have a cast of, if not thousands, perhaps 50 or so. Throughout the piece, a series of processions - nuns, peasants, party goers etc. move through the corridors at the sides of the space and behind the balcony. As an audience, we are very much in the centre of a world.

At the start of the second half, we are surrounded by coffins stood on end, like a wooden henge. Don Giovanni challenges the statue of Donna Anna's dead father to eat with him, and we see DG in an orgyastic feast. This involves him rolling in and eating a variety of quite modern foods, including sweetcorn, chocolate cake, tortilla espanola, and baked beans. His depravity is made outwardly clear. Of course, evil must be punished and Don Giovanni is summoned to hell (Broad St, via the revolving door) by the statue.

The moral of the tale? Even in a bank, evil will not triumph, and Broad St is hell, any night of the week.

  • The Gateway to Hell:
    The Gateway to Hell

More pictures (by John Ashby)

Reviews: ICBirmingham, Times, Guardian.

Sun 19 Mar 2006

Food at The Cross, Moseley

The Cross is normally pretty reliable for food, in fact, quite good. Today, however, was different. For a start, the specials boards were empty - either there had been an early rush, or something was up in the kitchen. Unfortunately, something was up in the kitchen. The chips were hard, the veg overcooked and mushy and the main dishes tasteless. Hopefully this is just an aberration and next time it will be back to normal.

Black Victorians, Waterhall, Birmingham

Quite a large collection of Victorian portraits, pictures, photos and prints with the odd book and soap-box card thrown in for good measure. Interesting to see the variety of portrayals, from characatures to almost photographic pencil drawings. What I'd really have liked to see was a little bit of context either side of the Victorian era. Not necessarily originals, but perhaps an attempt to find the earliest representation of black people in English art, and a timeline.

Sat 18 Mar 2006

WarehouseCafe

Ate lunch at the WarehouseCafe. I'm quite fussy about the standard of food in cafe's and restaurants - in many places, it's often the case that you could do better yourself, or even do better by buying a supermarket ready meal. Not in this case. I had a stunning five vegetable tagine - I'm not saying everything on the menu could be as good as this, but it really was exceptional, subtly fragrant with spices I couldn't put my finger on. I followed up with fairtrade banana fritters with a chocolate sauce and lemon sorbet, another special, this time for fairtrade fortnight.

Vasulka Labs - Vivid, and revisiting the CreativeAlliance exhib.

Vivid was quite busy this Saturday for the final day of Vasulka Labs video installations, the next part of which starts on the 13th April ( http://www.vivid.org.uk/projects.php?work=12 ). There were around 8 people wandering around, which, given that Vivid isn't the kind of place you run across by accident, was very good. This first installation was a retrospective of video pieces, many of which betrayed their analog or early digital origins.

Passing, By Nella Larsen, Radio 4

Passing is a novel which has been dramatised in 2 parts for radio. It deals with the concept of "passing" or "passing as white", what seems to be a very American concept, in which people with some ancestry in Africa present themselves as "White", which in this context means that all their ancestors are European. The main reasons seem to be (i) race laws in the US at the time, and (ii) the common acceptance of the "one drop law" which I hadn't come across until I did a bit of research into this.

I found an interesting set of essays at: http://backintyme.com/essay040915.htm which told me, amongst other things: that around 30% of those identifying as "white" in the US have some African ancestry; there are a number of "Maroon" communities self identifying as "white" or "native american" but also mixing in "black" ancestry; and that the "one drop rule" is still enshrined in US laws!

Interesting to see these issues from a different cultural perspective. The play wasn't bad either.

Fri 17th March 2006

The 18th Storey: The Haddon Tower Project

A real must see. This is open until Sat the 26th from 11am till 5pm, and takes place on (you guessed it), the 18th floor of the Haddon Tower, opposite the McDonalds where Bristol Rd turns into Bristol St.

There's so much good stuff, lets see what I can remember... a kitchen overwhelmed by sand, another with a wonderful view over the city and childrens pictures of their memories, a graph made from pictures of tower blocks in Birmingham (in height order), with construction dates and other info, a room with mysterious sounds and a massive old fashioned oscilloscope console (how they got it up to the 18th floor and into the room I don't know), an incense drenched living room with a single sofa and a full wall projection of the view. A living room with photos of the artists, and a film playing. A bathroom with floor and ceiling covered in aluminium foil - did it come like this, to overcome mold? or was it art? A plethora of information on ASBOs.

More info at: http://www.behindcloseddoors.org.uk/

  • Kitchen filled with sand, 18th Storey of Haddon Tower:
    Kitchen filled with sand, 18th Storey of Haddon Tower
  • View of Birmingham from 18th Storey of Haddon Tower:
    View of Birmingham from 18th Storey of Haddon Tower

In the view of Birmingham above you can spot two of Birmingham's landmarks: the Selfridge's building on the right, lit up in green for St Patrick's; and the Rotunda which is the round building to the centre right.

It was taken without a tripod at long exposure, so I'm pleased I managed to get it so clear! smile

Thu 16th March 2006

Creative Alliance Opening

The CustardFactory is the venue for the latest cohort of CreativeAlliance ( http://www.creativealliance.org.uk/ ) artists to showcase their wares, and there's a lot of good stuff. Mainly paintings, photos and other 2D work, there was also performance (which I missed, but it's repeated on the 22nd), some beautiful small metal figures, and a mobile made out of slides showing fragments of a story told by txt msg. See it.

Sun 12th March 2006

Tube Evacuation

I finished off my day by being evacuated from a tube station. Trying to get to Camden, I was at Tottenham Court Rd tube waiting for a North-bound Northern Line train when we were told to move to the Southbound platform. Almost immediately after this announcement, an automated announcment (with sirens) started telling us that "Attention please. Due to an emergency(?) alert, will all passengers leave the station immediately". The weird thing was that nobody seemed to want to leave. I walked though the crowded platform and started up the stairs (at a normal walking pace), and was the first person to go. Maybe these alerts are very common, or there are a lot of false alarms, but it struck me as strange.

Rachael Whiteread - Tate Modern

I claim that Rachael had the inspiration for this piece in a cafe shortly after being given the commission. Clumsily, she upset the bowl containing sugar lumps onto the table, and "BANG!" the idea was born. [*]

The turbine hall is full of plastic castings of cardboard boxes, piled in rough pyramids or neat stacks and strewn across the floor. It resembles an Eskimo's builders yard.

  • Explosion in a sugar cube factory:
    Explosion in a sugar cube factory

I also visited the exhibtion by Kippenberger, but to be honest there was just too much of it for me to take in. Lots of paintings, with a great installation of what I'd describe as "rooms without walls" near the end. Adjacent to each other, each contains chairs, tables etc. reminiscent of an office or other room.

By good fortune, I was able to eat on the balcony of the member's room, with a wonderful (though slightly chilly) view over the Thames.

Dan Flavin - Hayward Gallery

Dan Flavin's bag is flourescent lighting tubes. Lots of them. In different configurations, colours and compositions. I managed to sneak a couple of pictures with my camera phone. (Aside: It's a pain taking pics with the phone because, unless you're actually phoning someone, it makes a loud "k-chuck" sound each time you take a photo, which is bound to attract attention! This really limits it's use to noisy gigs and outdoor environments.)

My favourite piece was "To Virginia Dwan" (virtually all the works are untitled but with dedications). This consists of a single horizontal beam across a white corner, with a large blue strip light facing out, and three smaller ones hidden on the wall side, in yellow red and orange. It creates a wonderful texture of colour, which is intensely pretty.

  • Sneaky photo...:
    Sneaky photo...

P.S. Jo on Ace High blog has a couple more pictures - nice blog. She does some stickering too.

Sat 11th March 2006

Blue Man Group

New London Theatre. Wasn't at all sure what to expect from the Blue Man Group. I knew I was in for percussive performance, and was slightly wary that it might be along the lines of Stomp, which would have driven me crazy! However, it was much richer than that. Starting with a painting session with a "catch things in you mouth, spray paint with your spit" theme, we moved on through posters (pick which you read), pummeling paint (on the surface of drums, causing vibrant sprays of colour), paper waterfalls (masses of paper pulled across the audience), pipes painted in UV colours which dropped from the ceiling and pirouetted above our heads, plumbing (the universal network which connects us all) and too many P related things to list here smile

The band (in cages above) was lit by UV light and appeared to be bizare skeletal figures. The topic of isolation in modern society was a theme which was brough up several times - in written words on the posters, and on scrolling led display board talking about how people go to cybercafes and don't talk to the people next to them whilst attempting to communicate with people who are not there.

There was some audience participation, with the Blue Men coming out into the audience several times: picking out a "volunteer" to have lunch with them, making people swap seats, suiting one guy up in white + crash helmet, taking him back stage, hanging him upside down, covering him in paint and whacking him into a large white canvas. This last one was, I think, faked / pre-recorded, but very well.

Fri 10 Mar 2006

Syriana

A foreign film at the UGC on Broad St.

I had a number of impressions of Syriana. Firstly, it seemed very foreign, foreign in that it seemed very American. It features stereotypical American characters such as: a long term US agent with some shady dealing in his past, a family man who's job conflicts with his family life, a Saudi arab prince who wants to be king, corrupt oil men etc. etc. I didn't really feel that I was learning anything, or feel that engaged with the characters. It was a bit all over the place to be honest. There's 4 (I think) sub-plots which interact to a degree, and of course come together at the end, but none of them were particularly exciting or interesting. It's not that I didn't like the film. I found it perfectly pleasant. If it had been a big action block-buster, I'd have been the first to complain. I did actually enjoy it, it just didn't seem like it was going anywhere.

Mon 6th March 2006

Women Beware Women - The Swan, Stratford

Ate before the theatre at the Dirty Duck / Black Swan and had a tasty and very speedily served brie and mushroom wellington. Then on to The Swan for the play, a Jacobian Tragedy. I like the Swan as a venue, I saw Sejanus his Fall there last year and it worked very well. Again, we had simple sets, a door, a window, the odd table. It's a strange play in a way, almost everyone is corrupted by another character "talking them into it", and of course no ill deed goes unpunished by fate. But as well as tragedy, there's comedy. In fact, there's a little of everything: the 17th Centuary equivalent of a night in front of 1970's TV, including some dance in wonderfully unflattering dresses, one of which was reminiscent of a gigantic orange!

Sun 5th March 2006

Misty's and Retro Spankees at The Jug of Ale

Bit late notice for this one, big Misty's fan that I am, I hadn't read my email and almost missed this gig but luckily a friend rang me up earlier in the week to let me know.

The advantage of slightly less publicity than normal was that there was space to dance! The last few gigs have been so packed that it's been too tight to do much more than jig around a bit, this time, there was space for plenty of old-school Misty's fun smile

I think this is the 3rd time I've seen the Retro Spankees, each time supporting Misty's and this time I managed to grab a couple of CDs. They were very tight and an excellent match for Misty's. The crowd really liked them. I was a particular fan of their ironing board keyboard stand bedecked with ducks and a fluffy carrot! Other well known ironing board using bands include Pram and Dogfood.The Retro Spankees have got some excellent catchy and fun songs and seeing them reminded me of when I first discovered Misty's, long long ago smile

  • Retro Spankees - They have an Ironing Board:
    Retro Spankees - They also have an Ironing Board

  • Retro Spankees - They also have ducks:
    Retro Spankees - They have ducks

Like I said, there was space to dance at the front this time, and I had a prime spot. It was really nice to see all the regulars having space to dance properly, and Erotic Volvo came down to dance several times. Song which have stuck in my mind are: Serious Thing, which is quite traumatic in it's way; She fills the spaces, a nice love song; Smothered in Love (the Monkeys and Donkeys song); Mulling it Over, one of my all time faves; Remind me a Song, with it's 70's style sax/trumpet opening; Wising Up Song, fantastic contrasts. Doh! I could list the lot. They finished on The Tapeworm of Love so that's probably what I'll be singing until I next see them! They also did a few new/newer songs: Bland Age, and another one which slips my mind for the moment.

Oh yeah - Gareth has a very nice new hair cut, and everyone was looking particularly smart (as you can see).

My advice: don't go see Misty's, they're too good, you'll enjoy yourself too much and I won't have space to dance smile

  • Mistys on stage, 5th March 2006:
    Mistys on stage, 5th March 2006

My god! I've just had a quick look, and I reckon I've seen Misty's around 27 times! But it's always fun. If something's that good, you should do it lots... right? I also noticed that last.fm have my picture of Misty's from Cotteridge Park as their pic for Misty's! You can't stream Misty's through last.fm yet though.

Malvern

Visited Malvern on a nice sunny day to wander up the hill.

Malvern is famous for (i) it's hill(s) and (ii) St Anne's Well

  • St Anne's Well:
    St Anne's Well
  • St Anne's (is still) Well:
    St Anne's Well

What you might not know is that it also houses some of the most bizare window displays to be found in the midlands:

  • Unique Benefits of Rebounding - I guess the unique benefit of rebounding is that you don't just go straight through the "trampette" and hit the ground. The pictures shows a woman trampetting at the top of one of the Malvern hills, on a slightly grey day. Although you can't see well on the photo below, she wears an expression of joy rarely seen outside the circles of yogic flyers.
    Unique Benefits of Rebounding

Weds 1st March 2006

Happiness Lecture

Attended the annual Baggs Memorial Happiness Lecture. Back in 1973, a Mr Baggs died and left a bequest for an annual lecture on the subject of happiness to be held at BirminghamUniversity. Over the years, there's been a number of well known figures giving the lecture - Professor Anthony Clare, Maureen Lipmann, Sue Lawley etc.... This years lecturer was Lord Richard Layard (http://cep.lse.ac.uk/layard/ ) author of a book on happiness.

I was hoping that he was going to give an overview of scientfic research into happiness, along the lines of the NewScientist article I've precised in "How to be Happy". However, he focussed almost exclusively on the workplace - his main points being that (i) you shouldn't re-organise too often and (ii) teamwork makes people happier than performance related pay. That make's it sound a bit dull. The most interesting parts were the comparisons between attitudes and happiness across different countries. I've nicked a graph from his papers (see his website):

  • Happiness vs Income by Country:
    Happiness vs Income by Country

Etcetera Restaurant

Does eating out make you happy? Hmmm...

Anyway, tonight I ate at Etcetera in Harbourne. Choosing from the 3 course fixed price menu, I had a nice pear, (toasted) walnut and blue cheese salad - very tasty, sea bass served (as were the other mains) in a "frenchified" restautant style with its own veg in little portions, and a "Black Forest Pudding" for desert. The food was generally good, though it could be slightly better value for money, and I prefer a greater emphasis on fresh ingredients. It was a bit chilly, with air conditioning cooling the rooms although it was icy outside.

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