Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ron Sexsmith at Basement Discs

Lunchtime was greatly enhanced by a simply gorgeous In-Store performance by Ron Sexsmith at Basement Discs.

Ron Sexsmith is a Canadian singer/songwriter who is a superb live performer and one of the best songwriters in the world. His songs have been covered by diverse artists and have garnered praise from the likes of Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow to name a few.

His music can be classified as pop and a lot of it sounds very like the Beatles but, if like me, you tend to sneer at the Beatles , Ron Sexsmith channels them (this is a new term to describe artistic influences) with great verve and individuality. He has a distinctive voice, which wavers almost out of tune, but recovers itself at the last moment. He is also a very fine guitarist.

At today’s show Ron played for a generous 45 minutes, showcasing tunes from his latest CD Time Being and also playing songs, requested by the audience, from his back catalogue.

He is a mesmerising performer. Tall, with a boyish face he always dresses in style and has an appealing charisma when seen live. His clever songs coupled with skilful guitar accompaniment, are conveyed with great sweetness.

I have seen him perform quite a few times before and it has always been with great pleasure. Basement Discs was packed for this In-Store so I was glad I got there early to grab a good position for photos.

One song really grabbed me. It was from his new CD and is called Cold Hearted Wind.

It goes:
"Some morning you may find yourself alone

And there’ll be no warning
Should the wind of change start blowin’

Cold hearted wind Is blowin’ in the face of love
But I’ll take it to a place I know
Where the cold hearted wind don’t go

Been brewin’ ever since the world began
It could mean the ruination
Of your best laid plans

Cold hearted wind
Is moving on from every side
Dividing all goodwill has tried
To mend and to unite

You wonder if it’s gone for good
As I ponder that unlikelihood
Oh, if only wishing could
Just keep us from harm’s way always

But I feel it like a train rollin’ down the track
As it calls for you
To entertain these thoughts so black

Cold blooded storm
May turn the warmest heart to stone
And leave a trail of toppled hopes and dreams
Where the cold hearted wind has blown

Cold hearted wind
Is blowin’ in the face of love
But I’ll take you to a place I know
Where the cold hearted wind don’t go"

Of course lyrics often don’t make all that much sense until they’re sung which is an interesting factor in song writing. It is the singing of the words, and the manner in which they are sung, which make all the difference. The above song has a desolate air as it stands, but the tune and singing voice transform it into a beautiful desolation.

Alas, my partner is not a great fan of Ron Sexsmith, so I rarely get a chance to play Ron’s CDs at home, so seeing him perform is my next best thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s latest novel One Good Turn is a terrific read from start to finish, a highly entertaining page-turner with cliff hanger endings to each chapter. Subtitled, “A Jolly Murder Mystery”, it is that and more, being also a crazy comedy of errors.

One Good Turn is a sort of sequel to the fabulous Case Histories, which introduced Jackson Brodie, ex cop and private detective. He was a lovable character in Case Histories so it was a pleasure to renew his acquaintance in this later novel.

He is just one of a cast of disparate characters, whose fates intertwine as the plot unfolds. There is also Gloria Hatter, wife of crooked property developer Graham, who is pleasurably anticipating widowhood; Martin Canning who writes “soft boiled” old-fashioned detective stories under the nom de plume of Alex Blake; Louise Monroe the single mum police officer; Tatiana the Russian call-girl and a host of other eccentric personages. The plot is complicated, with many twists and turns and reversals and the separate stories of the main protagonists interconnect like the Russian dolls that feature heavily throughout.

The novel is set in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival and begins with a road rage incident that has unanticipated repercussions, and links all the main characters from the start, be they witnesses, attending police officers, victims or perpetrators.

Kate Atkinson has a light touch in her writing. It is quirky, but also remarkably percipient. Atkinson gets inside the heads of her characters in a way that is comical, ironic and perceptive - they come across as oddly endearing and sympathetic.

One Good Turn is Kate Atkinson’s fifth novel, and having read all the earlier novels, I think she is going from strength to strength having taken on the detective genre.

If you want a book that is both well written and highly entertaining you can’t go past One Good Turn. I found it unputdownable and didn’t want it to finish. Light entertainment with an edge, I recommend it unreservedly.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oh, the flowers that bloom in the Spring Tra La La

As it was a lovely Spring day yesterday, unlike today which is a return to Winter, I went out into the garden and photographed some of the flowers booming in profusion.

I love it when plants, all in a bunch, bloom together, making a stunning wall of colour.

Admittedly, the irises have been flowering for several months, but not quite with the density of display as of late.

The clivias have just started to flower and the pink daisies (whatever they're called) are a mat of pink on the ground.

orange_lily (Medium)

We have purple iris growing all over the place, like weeds. They are a stunning flower and en masse, look spectacular and remind me of Van Gogh's painting.

iris0906_2 (Medium)

There is a lilac bush in the front garden which I planted 20 years ago. It was a sucker from a lilac tree that was in the backyard of a house I lived in 22 years ago. It has certainly taken it's time to flower, as this year is the only time it has borne blossom over the 20 years it has been growing there, near the front gate. The parent tree is long gone, as that other house was renovated shortly after I moved out and the garden was destroyed. I had, understandably, given up hope long ago that the lilac would ever flower, so I'm pleased that it has finally obliged.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Four Hours Sleep

4 Hours Sleep - Basement Discs - 22/9/06

I had considerably more sleep than that last night. Four Hours Sleep is a band of diverse musicians brought together under the auspices of Bill McDonald, illustrious bass player in many fine Melbourne bands, like Rebecca’s Empire, Paul Kelly, Frente etc.

Four Hours Sleep were playing an In Store at Basement Discs at lunchtime today. I was there in attendance with my camera.

The other members of the band performing today were Stephen Cummings, Angie Hart, Pete and Dan Luscombe and Fi Claus. They barely fit on the tiny Basement stage, but the music they produced was sweet and dreamy stuff, taken from the album Love Specifics.

I was pleased to reacquaint myself with Angie Hart whom I used to know many years ago at the Dan O’Connell Hotel. This was before she established her music career. She came into the pub in her school uniform to hang out with her boyfriend of the time. She struck me today as a sweet and unaffected young woman who has not let fame and fortune go to her head.

Angie Hart - Basement Discs - 22/9/06
Angie Hart of course first came to prominence as the lead singer for Frente who had a hit with the quirky pop song,“Accidently Kelly Street” way back in 1993.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Day At the Races

Yesterday I went with friends on my annual pilgrimage to Moonee Valley racetrack. It was Manikato Stakes day, the first Group 1 race on the Spring Racing Calendar.

The day was perfect weather wise - warm and sunny. Quite a change from the last two years, when it was wet, windy and cold.

There was more of a crowd this time round, no doubt due to the absence of AFL games being played in Melbourne this weekend. In fact, the finals are over for Victorian teams for the rest of the season as the two last contenders, Melbourne & Footscray, were both defeated in Perth .

The crowd at Moonee Valley was not over the top as it is on Cox Plate day and it was easy to get a good position on the fence - essential to the thrill associated with close proximity to the horses thundering past.


We arrived just after the second race on the cards, and I managed to recover the cost of admittance with a winner, Shadowmaker (pictured above), in the third race.

My fortunes varied over the afternoon and I ended up with 2 winners, 1 second and 1 third.

The most exciting race of the day was the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes where Apache Cat was pipped at the post by Lad of the Manor. Considering it was Apache Cat's first run at the Valley, he did very well, leading most of the way, only to be caught at the last minute. Lad of the Manor won this race last year, beating Makybe Diva by a similar margin.
In the photo above, Apache Cat is leading down the straight.

The feature race was a good one as well. I backed Miss Andretti , the winner, and she scored pretty easily. Some young man in the crowd around the fence said before the race "Miss Andretti hasn't a hope of winning!" I took that as a good omen and sure enough she won. The young man continued to make aspersions about her as the afternoon wore on and as he became more intoxicated.
Photo above is of Miss Andretti just after winning.

There was the usual cheerful atmosphere, which is something I've noticed at race meetings. Everyone appears to have fun, and are chatty and friendly.

Usually there are amazing costumes, but apart of the girls in their - unsuitable for the weather, considering it turned chilly later - flimsy dresses, the winner for the most outrageous costume was a young man in an extraordinary purple suit (seen above chatting to a policewoman).

I took quite a few photos and apart from those I've used here I've placed more on my Flickr site if you want to check them out.

All up it was a most enjoyable day and it was good to see at least one of my super stable racing in the flesh. Apache Cat is a handsome fellow. His name was inspired by the blaze on his head, which makes him look like an Indian pony.


Update on my stable.

I substituted two horses this week. Cats Fun and Ellicorsam are out, and Pompeii Ruler and El Segundo are in. The purchase of these two rather depleted my winnings, but Apache Cat's second placing and Paratroopers fourth (which still earns money) have raised it up a smidgeon. I figured at the time that substituting with quality was the way to go. We'll see how it fares.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dissolution Summer - Gwyneth Jones’ Rock and Roll Reich Series

Last weekend I finished reading Rainbow Bridge the last volume in Gwyneth Jones wonderful series of novels, which began with Bold as Love in.2001.

If, like me, you have been following the fortunes of Ax, Fiorinda and Sage, the triumvirate of the Rock and Roll Reich through the five books, you would have been sad that the series has finally finished, but perfectly satisfied with the outcome. I won’t give away the ending here, but will consider the series as a whole.

It is set in a near future England where the Government has dissolved ties with the world and the country is in a state of chaos divided into several radical factions. The action begins at a music festival during what is called Dissolution Summer. The Counterculturals are called to form a new government and it is the formation of this Government and what happens after, that form the basis of the whole series.

The three main characters, Ax Preston, Fiorinda Slater and Sage Pender are all successful rock musicians and become involved in the formation of the Countercultural government. Ax eventually becomes Dictator of the realm. His dictatorship is benevolent and he co rules with consorts Fiorinda and Sage. The relationship between these three is a major theme and it is their fortunes that one is keen to follow in all the ensuing novels.

Far fetched as the premise is, that rock stars could rule a country, Gwyneth Jones’ take on utopian politics makes sense within the context of the novels. And come to think of it, is not all that impossible when you consider that film stars such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both succeeded to high office and country musician/novelist Kinky Friedman is a candidate for the Governorship of Texas. Even here in Australia Midnight Oils front man, Peter Garrett, is a member of Federal parliament.

The five novels that make up the sequence are all titled after Jimi Hendrix songs. Bold As Love, Castles Made Of Sand, Midnight Lamp, Band of Gypsies & Rainbow Bridge. There are many music references throughout, and rock n roll is one way the triumvirate exercise influence over the feuding masses.

The books can be read separately, but to really get the picture – and it is a large one - one really should read them in sequence. Although I have done the latter, it has only been as they were issued. I look forward to reading the sequence in order, one after the other, to gather all the strands that may have escaped me in the final volume.

Within this series the reader is entertained and engaged by the adventures of the threesome and their friends. They are forced to confront some really heinous enemies, not the least of which is Fiorinda’s evil magician father, Rufus O'Niall.

There is sex and drugs and rock n roll, witchcraft, weird science, political theory and even a skewed parallel with the Le Morte d'Arthur. Parts of it are brutal and horrific, but there are tender scenes as well and it’s all written in Gwyneth Jones’ down to earth, colloquial prose style.

The Bold As Love web site has extracts from the novels; art work inspired by the novels, and much more.

The first four books in the sequence had beautiful covers taken from paintings by Anne Sudworth
but for some reason Rainbow Bridge has a nondescript cover, which I find irritating, in that it spoils the set . I believe reprints of the earlier novels will not have the Anne Sudworth paintings either, so I should consider myself lucky to have the first four novels with these covers.

Despite such petty concerns, I highly recommend the entire series as an exciting, highly original reading experience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rejoice! Little, Big 25th Anniversary Edition to be published in 2007.

I greeted with joy and relief the news, today, that the 25th Anniversary Edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big is now certain to be published.

I subscribed several years ago to the numbered edition and would have been terribly disappointed had the venture not gone ahead.

Little, Big is up there with my all time favourite novels. It is a sublimely written, exquisite fantasy that tells the tale of the Drinkwater family and Edgewood, the house they inhabit. It’s a fairy story of remarkable originality and is considered a classic work of fiction these days.

John Crowley is a wonderful writer whose career I have been following for many years. I have purchased all his books and have enjoyed reading them as well.

Little, Big was first published 25 years ago. I bought it then and have a well-thumbed first edition - the trade paperback edition, that is the true first edition.

When I heard about the 25th Anniversary edition I was immediately interested and as details on the publication were revealed, I decided to lash out and subscribe to the numbered edition. What convinced me in the end was the proposed inclusion in the book of the art of Peter Milton. Little, Big is an uncanny book. It's almost as if it has a life of its own. The Peter Milton engravings are so consummately appropriate it is like he was illustrating the book, without realising it.

It really does appear that it will be a beautiful and valuable edition. Though I am primarily a reader of books, I have an interest in collecting fine editions as well, but only of novels I love.

The edition was originally going to be published this month, but it was put back to spring 2007 owing to insufficient subscribers. I feared that it would not be published at all, so today’s news is excellent. I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

Check out the Little, Big site and see if you can resist.

John Crowley has an entertaining Live Journal which is where I read the news today.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jeff Lang at Basement Discs

A special treat at lunchtime today was the performance of Jeff Lang at an In-Store at Basement Discs.

Jeff Lang is a local singer/songwriter/guitar maestro who has garnered a fine reputation as a great live performer. He was at Basement Discs to promote his latest CD Dislocation Blues, a collaboration with and commemoration to, the late Chris Whitely.

Jeff is a masterful slide guitarist and he accompanied himself on this instrument inititally and for the first three songs, one of which was a dark and swampy version of the old classic “Stagolee”.

For the remainder of the show he switched to a Dobro like instrument (as in the photo above) from which he extracted extraordinary sounds. His performance was fascinating to watch and scintillating to hear. All up it was one of the best performances I have seen at Basement Discs, which is saying something, considering the calibre of all the performers who have made an appearance there.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Super Stable Update

My super stable received another boost today with two horses in my stable, Haradasun and Miss Finland scoring a quinella in the race they were contesting. Miss Finland won by a whisker. Haradasun was blocked for a run in the straight so can be forgiven for not winning. It was an exciting race, quite like the old times when horses such as Alinghi and Fastnet Rock or Elvestroem & Makybe Diva fought out the finish in the straight. These current young horses are well worth following and I'm sure will give us lots of thrills in the future.

Apache Cat also ran today in the Memsie Stakes and came third. The winner, El Segundo, ran an absolutely stunning race. I think I will add him to my stable come substitution time.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dystopian Novels

After finishing “Birds Without Wings” by Louis de Bernieres, which by the way was an excellent novel, I decided to read Orwell’s great dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty Four” which in turn has induced me to binge on the genre of dystopian fiction.

I often let the book I am reading lead me on to the next. As I rarely buy new books these days, this always involves hunting through my book collection for a vaguely remembered novel purchased 20 or so years ago. It took me a while to track down “Nineteen Eighty Four”, but I found it when I was looking for Huxley’s “Brave New World” which has still not come to light, though I know it is there somewhere.

I had not read “Nineteen Eighty Four” since 1978 and, after all this time, vividly remembered the ending, but hardly anything else. So it was like approaching a new novel where the ending is known, but how the book arrives at the ending is a mystery. This is perfectly OK with me as a great deal of my reading matter these days is often a second, third or umpteenth re-reading of a well-loved book.

“Nineteen Eighty Four” is a profoundly unsettling novel and is, despite being written more than 50 years ago, relevant to today. Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police have been absorbed into the public perception of totalitarian governments and are the bogymen threatening free society today. The wonder of the Internet is how universally free it is, but what if it was controlled by a hostile power? China for instance controls the information available to its citizens with a modified version of Google.

This week I’m reading “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. It is interesting, though not all that surprising that books play an important role in all dystopian novels, and represent the free and independent mind. The thing about governmental control is that it is desirable for society to be obedient and if prone to rebellion, dumbed down to suppress opposition. You can see it happening these days. Intelligent debate is discouraged. Over the past decade, right wing governments, world wide, have been elected to power by an uninformed or apathetic electorate.

One of my all time favourite books, “Mockingbird” by Walter Tevis is also a dystopian novel. Set in a far future New York, reading has been forgotten and it is the story of how one man, in a drugged controlled, slowly dying society, rediscovers reading. The consequences of his doing this form the basis of the novel, and indeed, ultimately is the salvation of his world. It is, in my opinion a perfect novel, beautifully plotted, an enthralling futuristic fable that is haunting and melancholy. I’ve read it many times and go back to it time and time again to savour its special quality.

There are many dystopian novels. If I was so inclined I could continue reading books in this genre for the rest of the year, but knowing me, I’ll be off on a different tack after a few weeks.

I’m picking up two new books tomorrow from Justin at Slowglass Books - my preferred purveyor of Science Fiction and such like books. One book is the second volume in the Romanian trilogy by Paul Park, called “The Tourmaline” and the other is “Rainbow Bridge” the final volume in Gwyneth Jones’ Rock N Roll Reich series. Both these novels will fit nicely into my dystopian mood being about alternate worlds/societies of a nightmarish kind.