Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brian Kennedy at Basement Discs

I’m a bit behind on reporting this In Store performance, but better late than never.

Brian Kennedy did a show at Basement Discs last Wednesday and I managed, in between funeral arrangements, to get down to see him.

An Irish charmer, Brian Kennedy is a very engaging and entertaining performer. Multi- talented - he is a musician, singer and novelist - he spent many years playing in Van Morrison’s band. He also represented Ireland in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest.

Perhaps the most remarkable talent Brian Kennedy possesses is his gorgeous voice. It’s what first struck me when I first saw him perform at Basement Discs several years ago.

His voice has a high register, almost soprano, but probably is classed as a tenor.

As mentioned before, as a live entertainer he is funny and charming. Though I do not own any of his CDs (I can imagine B’s reaction if I brought one home!) I always take the opportunity to see him playing live at Basement Discs.

Last Wednesday was a great little show – very enjoyable to all who attended.

In other music news, Patty Griffin will be touring Australia for the first time in November. I’m certainly looking forward to that, as she is an extraordinary artist - a remarkable singer as well as being a great songwriter. Emmylou Harris is quoted as saying about Patty Griffin “"I would go anywhere, anytime to hear Patty Griffin sing her extraordinary songs". Same here.

Update on the Spring Racing Carnival

So far the Equine Influenza virus has been confined to New South Wales and Victoria has remained virus free. There has been no racing on the East coast for over three days, but Saturday afternoon is looking promising for the resumption of racing in Melbourne. The EI virus has frustrated the training programs of Sydney based horses and it looks like they will not be in contention during the early stages of the carnival or maybe not at all.

The Carnival may end up as a Melbourne centric competition, which would be a shame, as there are champions in Sydney who would have enhanced the entries into the main Spring races. It also looks as if the International contingent will be greatly reduced this year as well.

Fortunately a lot of my favourite racehorses, like Haradasun, El Segundo and Apache Cat, are Victorian based. Haradasun is due to race again next Saturday. He is also likely to be racing on the day I make my annual pilgrimage to Mooney Valley Race Course in mid September. I’d love to see him in the flesh and hope to get a picture of him on the day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spook Country by William Gibson

I am into my second reading of William Gibson’s new novel Spook Country. Well may you ask why I am re-reading a book I recently finished, again so soon. Was it because the initial reading left me with unanswered questions? No. Was it because I read the book in a less than absorbed fashion first time round? Not really, though it was fragmented by interference from outside sources.

The true reason I am reading Spook Country again is because I loved it so much on first reading that I just had to. I wanted to catch all the refracted inferences from the first page onwards.

Spook Country is the most contemporaneous novel I have ever read. Gibson’s style renders that contemporaneity in vivid detail - it is zeitgeist to such an extent that the book reads like it happened yesterday. It dazzles the reader with immediacy from the first page and imbues commonplace objects with significance and glamour.

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel Neuromancer and became known as the godfather of “cyberpunk”. His work has been called prophetic, but Gibson states in a very good interview in Salon Magazine “All science fiction is in one way or another about the moment in which it's written, even if the people who write it don't know that.”

Pattern Recognition, the forerunner to Spook Country was set in 2002, the first of Gibson’s contemporary novels. Spook Country is related to Pattern Recognition, through the commonality of some characters that briefly appeared in the earlier novel, but can be read as a separate novel.

In Spook Country, there are three plotlines that at first appear to have no relevance each other, but it soon becomes obvious that all the plot paths will meet later in the book.

The major story lines involve the following characters:

Hollis Henry former member of Curfew, a cult Indie band, turned journalist, is hired by a mysterious magazine “Node” to write an article on locative art (a sort of Virtual Reality only viewable through VR equipment). Her brief expands into a quest to find hacker Bobby Chombo who has, as well as creating virtual locations for locative art works, been tracking a mysterious shipping container.

Tito is a 22-year-old Cuban Chinese immigrant, member of a family experienced in espionage with links to Soviet Russia. His aunt Juana is a master forger and Tito himself is expert in a method of martial arts that combines a Russian form of martial arts called “systema” and the Santiera religion of Cuba. He runs errands for the family who are under an obligation to a mysterious old man.

The third main character is Benzodiazepine junky, Milgrim, who has specialised knowledge of Volapuk, the Russian method of rendering the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet on Roman keyboards. Milgrim is a prisoner of Brown. It is unclear if Brown is a policeman or a federal agent. Brown is very interested in the activities of Tito , whom he refers to consistently as the IF, an acronym for Illegal Facilitator, and he needs Milgrim’s special skill, for which he is prepared to supply his habit.

The three plot lines are handled with precision and draw together in a satisfying thrilling ending. The past lives of the characters provide a glimpse of their inner self and also have a bearing on their current attitudes and abilities. They are all endearing in one way or another.

William Gibson is another of my all time favourite writers. I came to Neuromancer quite late (in 1990), some years after it was published, and have subsequently read all his books several times.

Gibson's writing style is smart, graceful, dry and ironic and he writes amazing analogies that make you pause in awe at their vivid aptness. Take this analogy for instance:

"The sky had a Turner-on-crack intensity, something volcanic aglow behind the clouds that looked set to birth tornadoes"
Or, this one:

"Six floors below, she saw the palms along Sunset thrashing, like dancers miming the final throes of some sci-fi plague.”
Ostensibly set in 2006, the novel embraces the post 9/11 world, the war on terror and even references the inundation of New Orleans. The time setting is apposite to the action of the novel where the characters carry laptop computers and consult Google, guide vehicles via GPS and use Ipods as data storage carriers. It’s a techno thriller-cum-adventure novel of the first order, full of ideas that make you look anew at the world around you and urges you to consult Google for more information on things like Volapuk, steganography, and other such cool stuff mentioned throughout the novel.

Spook Country is one of the best novels I have read this year. I recommend it unreservedly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big

The 25th Anniversary edition of John Crowley’s wonderful book, Little Big is finally close to publication. I have been waiting for this edition for years. I ordered myself a copy of the numbered edition several years ago and my anticipation has recently been piqued by the news that a limited edition poster, produced as part of the test printing process, has been made available for purchase. It’s a bargain at $15.00 US so I naturally ordered myself one. It features a short Crowley, Little, Big related extract called “Suppose One Were A Fish” and displays some of the art work of Peter Milton which will be used to illustrate the new edition.

You can view a good quality pdf version of the poster here.

Peter Milton’s art is extraordinary – meticulously detailed and intricate, black and white prints, which contain multilayered symbolic or allegorical references to 19th Century literary figures among other things. His art is beautifully strange and yet strangely familiar. Check out his work at

On the subject of posters and poster art, I bought a poster at the Ryan Adams concert. It too is a limited edition piece of art. Just about every city on Ryan Adams current tour has its own individual poster design and features an iconic image that defines the city it represents. The Melbourne poster shows Luna Park with an old fashioned tram – one of Melbourne’s most iconic public transport features with the Ryan Adams & the Cardinals rose logo displayed on the side of the vehicle. It’s very cool and stylish. The artist is Melbourne based artist and designer, Daymon Greulich. Check out his folio on the website to view more Ryan Adams tour posters. I think they're all pretty gorgeous. The posters were only available at the shows and in limited numbers, so now there is a big swap market for them on Ryan Adams fan sites.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Introducing Timmy

I managed to get a photo of Timmy today. As you can see he's quite a pretty cat, though the resident cats Lizzie and Willy are not impressed. Handsome is as handsome does, is their general opinion.

Timmy has settled in really well and, even though he has had ample opportunity to run away, has not taken it upon himself to do so. He has a nice nature and appears to be nonaggressive, so no fur has flown since he has arrived. Lizzie and Willy still regard him with suspicion, with Lizzie glaring and hissing at him on sight and Willy giving him a wide berth. Initially Willy was friendly towards Timmy and appeared hardly fazed to have a new cat in the house. Something must have happened during the past week, to make him nervous of Timmy, though he appears not have any wounds. We can only speculate on them encountering each other one night and facing off. Timmy is, however, nervous of Lizzie. You just don't mess with old lady cats!

It's a relief that this adoption of Timmy has not been as traumatic for him or us as we initially feared.

So things have returned to normal after a really quite stressful week. I couldn't think straight last week, so I am glad B's mother's funeral is behind us. It was a good funeral as funerals go - small and intimate - with a simple service.

Other stuff.

Below is a photo of plum blossom with a bee and lots of sky. You can see that it was a lovely day today. Spring is well and truly on the way.

Not so the Spring Racing Carnival, which has been affected by an outbreak of Equine Influenza in New South Wales. All races and horse events on the Eastern coast were cancelled yesterday for a period of 72 hours, to prevent the virus from spreading and to try and establish the source. Australia has been free of this virus until now. It really couldn't have happened at a worse time as it will indeed have an impact on how the Spring Racing Carnival pans out, or indeed if it happens at all.

As a racing fan I'm pretty devastated. I was so looking forward to seeing my favorites fight it out in upcoming races and also keenly anticipating my annual day at the races in September. Let's hope the virus is contained and that racing will resume soon.

PS: My review of the Ryan Adams concert is now up on the Nu Country web site.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Splendid Dose of Cardinality...

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals -20 August 2007 just what the doctor ordered.

The Ryan Adams concert was fantastic, a sensational night of rock 'n roll full of stellar performances. It was well and truly up to my expectations and my seat was perfect for viewing and listening.

Ryan was in a very cheery mood and handled the few hoonish members of the audience with wit and good humour.

I was also very taken with the Cardinals, Ryan's touring band, especially the lead guitarist Neal Casal who provided harmony vocals and even performed one of his own songs, which was great. Neal Casal has a gorgeous voice, which blends with Ryan's equally gorgeous voice in a really magical way.

It has been a very distracting past few days...

On Saturday B's mother passed away, so it has also been quite stressful. She had a massive stroke that rendered her unconscious. B found her in a chair in her living room, passed out. She was rushed to hospital but died several hours after. It was terrible for B, but also a relief, as she was quite frail and getting quite senile . She was 86 years old.

The past few days have been occupied with organising the funeral, but we still managed to fit in the Ryan Adams concert. We needed some light relief after the weekend.

We've also inherited B's mother's cat Timmy. So far, so good , the resident cats appear to be handling it better than we expected and Timmy is keeping a low profile and seems to be settling in quite well.

Cross fingers it all works out.

I feel very tired at the moment so will expand on the above later.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Downhills Home at Basement Discs

Yesterday's In Store at Basement Discs featured the young country rock five piece ensemble of Downhills Home. They were new to me but were pretty impressive as a live act.

Downhills Home are Sean McMahon (guitar, vocals & dobro), Michael Hubbard (lead vocals & guitar), Tim McCormack (bass), Brendan McMahon (keyboard & piano) and Josh Duiker (drums). Together they produce a tight and feel-good sound, reminiscent of the music of the late 60s early 70s. Their home penned songs are winning and well written.

As usual it was a welcome respite on a chill Melbourne day, to hear good live music in the lunch hour.

With only two more days to wait until the Ryan Adams concert, I'm getting pretty excited and also, because Ryan Adams is such a capricious artist, slightly apprehensive as to what we are in store for at the concert.

I've been reading the reactions to his two shows this week in New Zealand. The first show was apparently very good and lasted for two hours, whereas in the second, Ryan appeared to be in a bad mood, owing no doubt to an audience that was less than respectful, so was curtailed.

However, Melbourne audiences are generally very good and appreciative, so it will, hopefully, be a night of good vibes and music. Can't wait. Any show of Ryan Adams is worth seeing and his band, the Cardinals, are excellent.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Plug for Jeff

Just received this email from Jeff VanderMeer so thought, seeing as how he’s such a great guy and also a very fine writer, I’d give him a plug.

I’ve had a look at the movie and was very impressed with it.

"In conjunction with the release of Jeff VanderMeer's critically-acclaimed novel Shriek: An Afterword in trade paperback from Tor Books, available from or your favorite local bookstore comes a short art film with an original soundtrack by The Church... "

A city at war with itself. A night beyond imagining. And... aftermath. A short indie film about memory and transformation by Finnish director J.T. Lindroos, from a screenplay by Jeff VanderMeer, with an original soundtrack by the legendary art-rock band The Church. The film opens with Shriek typing up her memoirs from the backroom of a bar. Influenced by early surrealist films. Set in Jeff VanderMeer's fantastical city of Ambergris.

Voice cast includes Kathleen Martin as Janice Shriek and Steve Kilbey & Tim Powles from The Church. With character images by Elizabeth Hand and Rick Wallace, and art by Scott Eagle, Steve Kilbey, and others.

14 minutes [Allow the film to play to the end if experiencing bit rate problems, and then replay.]

High-res/small screen

Lower-res/larger screen

The movie and more video and audio related to Shriek can also be found at:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I spent the weekend reading the latest Harry Potter book, turning the final page at 11.45 on Sunday night. Being a bit tardy in getting around to reading the novel, I have been assiduously avoiding reading any reviews or discussions on the net or in the press, so I am glad it is finally accomplished. The friend who gave me the book for my birthday was dying to discuss it with someone, so was also impatient for me to finish. It is impossible to talk about it within the hearing of those who have not read the book, so I will not reveal any spoilers here.

I suppose it was in 1998 that I first heard of the Potter books, from the very same friend who gave me the book for my birthday. The Potter books had not really taken off at that time. Having started the series I was compelled to read each of the subsequent volumes as they appeared and have seen the movies as well, except for the most recent film.

Admittedly the Harry Potter books are not what you would call great literature and even the writing leaves a lot to be desired, but they are curiously compulsive reading. They are a bit like the old fashioned children’s stories I loved in my childhood, like Tom Brown’s Schooldays and other such like school stories. I did a two-year stint in a boarding school myself, though that school was nothing like Hogwarts. Even so, I recall peculiar ghostly occasions where alone in the dormitory over a weekend, another girl and I were simultaneously struck with a unknown terror that caused us to stop whatever it was we were doing and remain still and mute for however long the incident lasted. It was very strange and spooky.

Back to Harry Potter…

This last book, I can assure you answers all the questions raised in the earlier books and loose ends are neatly tied up. The ending is curiously low key, but satisfying. It does however take a very circuitous route in getting there. What the deathly hallows are and how they affect the outcome, I’ll leave you to find out.

Now, having dispatched Harry Potter, I can get back to serious reading. Last week I started reading Jim Crace’s Pest House continuing with my fictional dystopia theme. I’ve barely read half so will reserve judgement on it until I finish, but so far it’s pretty interesting.

After that I intend to read the new William Gibson novel Spook Country (another birthday present which will hopefully arrive from Amazon soon).

I’ve also decided to re-read Robertson Davies and recently worked my way through his so-called Salterton Trilogy. Robertson Davies, now deceased, was a well-known Canadian writer, most famous for the novel Fifth Business, which was quite popular in the late 1970s. He is a very fine writer, urbane and witty with wonderful characterisations. There are laugh-out-loud passages in his novels and a sharp intelligence is evident in his observations of human follies and foibles. He wrote three trilogies – the Salterton Trilogy, the Deptford Trilogy and the Cornish Trilogy – and was two thirds into a fourth at his death, so he’ll keep me occupied for a while. Each book in the separate trilogies can be read alone as they are not necessarily chronological in sequence, rather they share common characters and explore different themes. He’s well worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lunchtime Music Returns to Basement Discs

Tin Pan Orange - from left to right - Alex Burkov, Emily Lubitz, Jesse Lubitz
The Basement Discs kicked off what promises to be a stellar sequence of August In Store performances today with Tin Pan Orange, after a hiatus during the month of July.

Tin Pan Orange is a five-piece band, but today only three were on stage. The leading lights, principal singers and songwriters of the group are brother and sister, Jesse and Emily Lubitz. They both played acoustic guitars with a guy called Alex Burkov playing electric mandolin and sensationally good gypsy violin as an added accompaniment.

It is hard to describe the type of music that Tin Pan Orange play, as it’s such a mix of genres. There’s a flavour of Jazz, a hint of rock n roll with a funky base. Emily’s voice is really something special – smoky and sensual.

They played a selection of songs from their latest CD Death, Love and Buildings and one from their first Aroona Palace, which was a whimsical song about unrequited love.

I must admit I’d never heard of this group before and I was impressed by their performance. A fair crowd of people were there to take in the vibe, including a group of young Asians who appeared to be strays, but they stayed and watched the show.

Melbourne appears to full of bands and artists one has never heard of. You occasionally come across them as support acts at shows or from other sources like the Basement discs who are very supportive of local artists.

Next Friday, another (unknown to me band) called Downhills Home will be putting on a mini show, then the week after two in-stores by International artists. On Tuesday Albert Lee, the famous UK \US guitarist will be playing followed by, on Wednesday, the extraordinary and engaging Brian Kennedy from Ireland.
And of course there are only 10 more sleeps to the Ryan Adams concert on 20th August

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Spring is on the way

Early this morning I snapped this photo of almond blossom on the tree in the backyard. Fresh and sweet it is when it first appears, before the winds blow it all away. Spring tends to be very windy here in Melbourne which detracts from days when we can expect a little warmth and sunshine.

I've been having fun checking out the capabilities of my new camera. All the photos shown here were taken with it.

Another sign of impending Spring are the irises starting to bloom...

...and the jonquils.

I was pleased with this shot of a knot in the fig tree - I love the texture.

Another good sign of Spring is the build up to the Spring Racing Carnival.

Last weekend two of my favorite horses competed against each other in the Bletchingly Stakes. Apache Cat proved too speedy for Haradasun and won by a good margin. It was a short race -1200m, which suited the Cat. Haradasun will improve, I'm sure, over longer distances.

Next weekend the racing build up continues with several interesting races on the cards. Another horse in my Super Stable, El Segundo, will be running.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Welcome Zoe

My brother rang today to convey the news that I am great aunt for a second time. My niece had a baby girl this morning, another Leo to add to the family pride. She is to be called Zoe.

I certainly won’t have any excuse to forget young Zoe’s birthday as my birthday was yesterday. It was a significant birthday in that I reached grand old age of 60. Naturally I celebrated it in a fitting though low-key manner imbibing several glasses of champagne and other alcoholic beverages in the company of friends.

Today I feel vague, but cheerful and not at all cast down by the realisation that I’ve survived sixty years of life and can anticipate rather fewer decades in the future. I intend to enjoy them, no matter what.

It is curious that I always thought my niece was going to have a girl this time. Her first child was a boy, though I had no intimations of his sex before he was born. My brother also had the same hunch this time even though there was no way it could be confirmed until the birth. How do you explain such things?

Leos seem to run in our family, at least one or two in each generation - a kind of astrological genealogy. I’m curious to see young Zoe’s astrological birth chart to see what similarities there are in her chart against those of other family members. I’ve already noted that she has a predomination of fire signs according to today’s ephemeris. This should make her lively company, to say the least.