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Image from WikimediaI was thirteen when the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As were so many others I was already captivated having heard such extraordinary songs as Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows and Strawberry Fields. Now – on experiencing their first post-touring long-player – I was completely blown away and a lifelong love of the works of Messrs. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr was cemented.

My most immediate and startling memory, however, of the post-Pepper-release period was not directly to do with the Beatles or with the record at all. My school at that time held an annual public speaking competition, involvement in which (somewhat strangely in the light of subsequent events) I contrived to avoid throughout my entire career there. This widely disregarded event took place over two days. On the first each of the competitors mounted – one at a time – the stage in School Hall to recite a poem. On the second day they gave a five minute address on some subject either close to their hearts or the choice of which they coldly calculated would most appeal to the judges and/or the forcibly assembled audience.

On day one of the 1967 competition one of the seniors (a popular prefect – words rarely heard together in those days) stood proudly upon the platform and recited – instead of the usual Tennyson, Wordsworth or Coleridge (or if particularly daring, Byron or Keats) – the lyrics to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, a song at that point banned by the straight-laced BBC for being quite obviously about the experience of taking LSD. We plebeians in the stalls gasped and looked shiftily at each other and to the masters present, trying to gauge how they would react to their solemn ritual being thus traduced.

The world – naturally – did not end. The staff simply looked bored and did nothing. The popular prefect did not win the contest. We mere mortals, however, realised that something, somewhere had changed irrevocably – and we were right.

What was most remarkable about Pepper of course (apart from the dazzling imagination and unprecedented soundscape on display) was the sheer variety. From LSD to traffic wardens, from Victorian fairground barkers to Indian gurus… all human life appeared to be represented not merely on Peter Blake’s pop-art cover but also within.

For this reason Paul McCartney’s whimsical musing on just what it might be like to achieve three score years and four seemed hardly out of place at all and those of us who could not begin to imagine ever reaching such a decrepit age simply took it as one more example of a fertile imagination.

This week – you will by now have deduced – I turned sixty four!

 

 

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Image by Tony Hisgett on Wikimedia Commons“The music is in the air. Take as much as you want.”

Edward Elgar

It is highly likely that a fair proportion of the English expat community of Victoria were unknowingly gathered together in one place on Monday evening last.

The Kickass Canada Girl and I were amongst those attending the Royal Theatre for a concert by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra (the first such that I have experienced) featuring a programme which included works by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Edward Elgar.

In musical terms one cannot get much more ‘English’ than this and the Brits appeared to have turned out in force!

Though I have long been a fan of Vaughan-Williams I was not previously familiar with the F Minor Tuba Concerto – the which work was featured on Monday. In common with most other commentators I do not find the bass tuba particularly suited to being featured as a solo instrument, but the orchestral passages in the piece are marked by the composer’s familiar elegant phrasing and it proved to be most enjoyable as a whole.

Now – I grew up listening to Elgar. As would seem to be the case for many others I came first to the Enigma Variations, falling in love with the Nimrod and sensing that it somehow encapsulates much that is good at the heart of the English pastoral. I discovered the E Minor Cello Concerto somewhat later but the work has grown to have a profound effect on me. The piece – Elgar’s last major work – was composed shortly after the end of the Great War (during which he had written very little) and has been described as a lament for a lost world. To me – and clearly to many others – its elegiac and melancholy mood captures to perfection the sense of tragic loss both of a generation and of the innocence of the ‘golden summer’ that preceded that catastrophic conflict.

The last time I head the Cello Concerto played live was at a concert at one of the schools at which I worked. The cello soloist (still a schoolboy at the time) was Tim Lowe – now a highly respected international performer. His rendition of the work moved me to tears, as did that of English cellist Raphael Wallfisch on Monday last. Wallfisch’s reading is maybe a little more clear-eyed and less sentimental, but the power of the work over those of us who are susceptible (Englishmen mayhap?) is undeniable.

Mind you – the Nimrod also has me blubbing uncontrollably as well. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, except that Elgar clearly tapped into something that speaks eloquently to at least some of us who hail from from that blessed plot.

The first time that one hears a ‘new’ orchestra is always a somewhat nervy experience. I am delighted to report that the Victoria Symphony – under its new director, Christian Kluxen – gave an entirely admirable performance. I very much look forward to hearing them again.

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The English boys’ school that was my penultimate place of employ before we moved to Canada is known for many things, not least of which is its plethora of distinctive customs and traditions. These are sufficiently extensive – and codified in such a unusual vocabulary – that the institution provides an extensive guide to its unique terminology for all new members of staff.

One of the minor (but particularly charming) traditions on the staff side concerns a ‘miserable Monday’ in November. In short, a long serving member of the school staff from times gone by bequeathed to the School a financial gift sufficient to provide – on one particularly miserable Monday morning each November – Madeira and Bath Oliver biscuits to be served at the morning staff meeting – ‘Chambers‘. The School Clerk is tasked with choosing the Monday to be so graced and the skill clearly resides in picking the most miserable of the days concerned. Of course, should one go too early there is always the possibility that the weather might get even worse later in the month.

However arcane this odd little tradition might seem to outsiders it had the effect of brightening not only the Monday concerned but, through anticipation, those that preceded it.

Talking of November traditions – now that we are resident on the far side of the planet we are beginning to create (as one does) our own customs and recurrent habits. As regular readers might therefore already be aware – if it is November it must be time for Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express! As you can see I have extolled the delights of this particular evening’s entertainment before. Suffice to say that this year’s outing was equally enjoyable.

On a different (but also delightful) note, being a household currently without usable bathtubs – but being at the same time imbued with the British love of submerging ourselves for extended periods in hot water – we are delighted to report that our little hot tub is at last in action. For various reasons – having much to do with electrical supplies – it has taken far longer than anticipated to get it up and running. We finally ‘leveraged’ (bah!) our renovations to make things happen and we can now wallow under our new deck whilst the rain pelts down but a few feet away.

Cool! (or more accurately, hot!)…

Hmmm! I think I hear the tub calling now…

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Image by Tabercil on Wikimedia CommonsA sad evening last night…

Way back in the mists of time (actually somewhat earlier this year!) it was announced that the ‘Legendary Gordon Lightfoot’ would be coming to Victoria this fall for a couple of concerts at the McPherson Playhouse.

Wikipedia says of the great man:

“Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music, and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.”

Now – it is probably fair to say that for many of us who hail from the UK (and elsewhere ‘abroad’) familiarity with both Mr Lightfoot himself and with his oeuvre are somewhat limited. The name I knew, of course, but I could not bring to mind any of his classic songs.

For the Kickass Canada Girl, however, it was a different matter. She grew up on Mr Lightfoot, and his compositions – as for so many Canadians – were woven into the tapestry of her upbringing. Not a second was wasted, therefore, in placing an order for two tickets for the aforementioned show, so that she might revisit old favourites and stir some memories in the process, whilst introducing me to something that I had previously missed.

So where – the gentle reader will doubtless be wondering – does the sadness come in? Well – the Girl and I did something that we virtually never do: we left at the interval!

Mr Lightfoot used to have a beautiful rich haunting baritone voice but sadly – on last night’s evidence at least – it is no more. In a form in which the words are pretty much everything, the strained croak with which we were greeted at the McPherson yesterday struggled to render many of the lyrics intelligible. In addition, Mr Lightfoot’s four-piece band were obviously under instruction not to provide too much competition and were dialed back almost to comatose. Given that none of them provided backing vocals either the man’s voice was left painfully exposed.

Checking his history on the InterWebNet I gather that over the years (Mr Lightfoot is 78!) illness has taken its toll and – though I would be one of the last people to suggest that he should not indulge his love of performing to the many appreciative fans who were clearly willing to overlook such frailties – I can’t help but think that he needs a little help. The Girl and I saw Burt Bacharach some years back at the jazz festival in Perugia. He was 80 at the time and – recognising that his own voice was shot – had surrounded himself with three gorgeous young vocalists (male and female) to handle such ‘chores’ whilst he amused himself (and us!) on the piano. It made for a stunning concert!

In the case of Mr Lightfoot the Girl was – understandably – really quite upset.  When the tenderly preserved memory of something that has played such a key part in one’s life is delivered such a rude awakening it can leave one somewhat shaken.

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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A couple of weeks back The Girl and I went to a movie.

Long term followers of these scribblings will know that I am not entirely enamoured of the cinema (confusingly called the ‘theater’ in Canada) experience. In our new Victorian life, however, things have been improved no end by the fact that – being retired (or semi-retired) – we can attend early showings in virtually empty cinemas. The provision of huge reclining loungers which enable one (with a little effort) to imagine that one is in the comfort of one’s own home also helps to ease the pain!

But I digress!

Now – I have actually forgotten the title and indeed much of the detail of the movie that we went to see, but this matters not a jot as the subject of this post is another matter entirely.

Waiting for the film to start we sat through the usual face-punching trailers for other movies – the which seemed as ever to comprise all of the ‘good’ bits smashed into one brief package. As I cowered on my recliner I became aware that the music track for one such was unexpectedly familiar. It took a moment in the unaccustomed setting but I eventually recognised it as the end of the ‘Your Move‘ section of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People‘ by the 70s progressive rock band – Yes.

I say 70s, but Yes are actually still going (those who have survived) in two competing incarnations. Though I was a massive fan of Yes back in the day I have to say that I don’t care much for the complex saga of their recent doings.

For me the very apex of the band’s achievement – capturing the boldness and excitement of their stage performances – was the 1973 triple live album – ‘Yessongs‘. My brother had a copy (he had a record deck, which I did not!) and I would badger him to play it at every opportunity. What I liked particularly about Yes live was the sense that they were always straining for something that was just out of reach. Sometimes they would hit the mark and the hairs would stand up on the back of my neck. Sometimes they would fall just short – like a surfer wiping out or a downhill skier crashing in a cloud of snow and ice – but the result was usually spectacular none the less. They certainly had a huge influence on me as a musician and writer.

Naturally, on our return from the cinema I engaged the InterWebNet to revisit the ‘The Yes Album’ version of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People‘. I must have listened to this track dozens of times over the decades, but this time I noticed something of which I had not previously been aware. Toward the end of ‘Your Move‘ the backing vocalists (Chris Squire and Steve Howe) are faintly but unmistakably to be heard singing:

All we are saying – is give peace a chance

A tribute to John and Yoko mayhap?

So – although this little homage has always been on the track I only just now heard it!

How weird is that?

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Image by Andy Dawson ReidEven so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”

Haruki Murakami, ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Summer is at its height and that must perforce mean that Wednesday evenings are spent in Pioneer Park, Brentwood Bay, chilling with friends on the greensward, dining al fresco and listening to some good music.

The season was caressed into life at the beginning of July by the smooth but soulful stylings of The R & B Toasters and the Butterhorns from Vancouver. These guys are all old hands and could probably crank this stuff out in their sleep. They feature one of the tightest rhythm sections I have heard in a good long time and for an outdoor gig their sound was exemplary – punchy and tight. I expressed my admiration to the bass player and drummer at the end of the show and they admitted that they had been playing together for a very long time.

Week two brought us Auntie Kate and the Uncles of Funk. Auntie Kate sings the blues and The Girl and I have seen her before – The Girl many times! We both agreed that she was in even better voice than we had heard previously. There is obviously something in the Vancouver Island summer air that brings out the soul in a performer.

We were looking forward to week three as – it seems – were many other inhabitants of the Saanich peninsula, evidenced by the extensive crowd staking out their spots in the park well before kickoff time. The focus of this interest was Dustin Bentall and the incredible Kendel Carson. Dustin has been mentioned in these dispatches before – being the son of Canadian superstar Barney Bentall – and Kendel is his even more talented other half. We have seen them both with The Caribou Express and if expectations were high they were well lived-up to. Kendel has a gorgeous voice and is a hugely gifted fiddle player – not to mention being ‘awful easy on the eye!’ – as they saying (probably) goes.

Week four’s offering – Echo Nebraska (pictured above) – were always going to struggle to match the Bentalls. They have a decent singer but the rest of the band are a perhaps little one dimensional and they still have much to learn. They are yet young though…

As can be gleaned from the image above, the bands currently play on a small temporary stage just outside the Brentwood Bay library. As of next season they will instead grace a purpose built and very beautiful permanent stage (construction of which has just started) courtesy of the fundraising and organisational efforts of the Brentwood Bay Community Association. Kudos all round – say I – for such a splendid campaign and fantastic effort.

We are in little doubt the the remainder of this season will match the standards set thus far – which means that we are all in for further treats!

Good-oh!

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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap  to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…

 

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“More than 80 theatre artists from across Canada descend on Fernwood this March for the Belfry’s annual SPARK Festival – an opportunity to see some of the best theatre in the country.

With love, from scratch, and with some of the country’s best theatre artists, we build, rehearse and create our plays in our own home, a renovated 19th century church in Fernwood – Victoria’s most interesting neighbourhood.”

From The Belfry‘s website

Victoria is blessed to have such an energetic arts scene!

To The Belfry last night to catch one of the shows in the theatre’s annual ‘Spark‘ festival. This excellent festival runs for nearly two and a half weeks in March and offers a number of full length productions in rep in The Belfry main house and studio theatres, in the Metro studio and in other locations across the city.

As I have mentioned before in these marginalia the Kickass Canada Girl and I have season tickets to The Belfry’s regular season and this year we took advantage of the accompanying reduced price offer to pay our first visit to the festival as well. It proved a most interesting evening.

The show that we had selected – Toronto’s Outspoke Productions’ “SPIN” – started at 8:00 of the evening in the main house, but for those who chose to arrive early a number of ten minute ‘mini plays’ could be sampled in odd nooks and crannies around the building. The Girl and I saw three – ranging from an interesting audio production for which an audience of three donned headphones in a tiny ‘broom cupboard’ to listen to a monologue whilst rifling through a treasure box of memorabilia – all the way to a Mohawk woman of a certain age shocking the genteel burghers of Victoria with knowingly racist humour.

SPIN” was itself an intriguing disquisition by singer/songwriter/actress/poetess Evalyn Perry on the early history of cycling – the invention of which turns out to have been a major feminist event. The show featured – and this was a first for me at least – a bicycle percussionist! By this I mean (should you require clarification) a man who uses a bicycle and its component parts as a sort of drum kit rather than someone who plays percussion whilst riding upon a cycle!

We enjoyed the show greatly and found the story of Annie Londonderry (not her real name!) – the first woman to ride a bicycle around the globe – both fascinating and moving. We felt, however, that as a whole the piece needed a little structural work; that perhaps the balance of the material was not quite right for the length of the show.

Very grateful as ever that we have such splendid endeavours on hand to inspire us.

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