Thursday, February 28, 2008

Live Music - odd connections and coincidences

There are no in store performances this week at Basement Discs, but I am going to a house concert for Danny O’Keefe on Friday evening. I have never been to a private house concert before so I’m interested in how it all works. This concert is by invitation only so will be a small and intimate event.

There’s a bit of a story attached to my invitation to this event...I met the people, Peter and Jane, who are hosting it, at the Northcote Social Club Teddy Thompson concert in November 2006, and we got talking as you do. They provided accommodation for Danny O’Keefe when he last toured here in November 2005 and had maintained contact with him since. I sent Peter some of the photographs I had snapped of Danny at his Basement Discs in store performance and directed him to a review on Nu Country written by an old Danny O’Keefe fan who had attended his show at the Corner Hotel and sent the review to Nu Country.

After that I didn’t run into Peter and Jane until the Mary Gauthier show at Northcote Social Club in January last year and not since.

However Peter knew I was interested in Danny O’Keefe so he invited me to the house concert.

Danny O’Keefe is famous for writing the song “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” which has been covered by many notable singers including Elvis Presley, Willy Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis. He co-wrote a song with Bob Dylan and has been pursuing a music career for over 40 years. He is a masterful performer in his own right, so it should be a good night’s entertainment on Friday.

Interestingly enough, I received an email from Danny O’Keefe, way back in November 2001, a few months after I had launched the Edward Whittemore site saying:

"I had been speaking with my friend Tom Robbins, another fan of Edward Whittemore's and whom I initially turned on to "Quin's Shanghai Circus", and he wondered what had happened to him. I didn't know either, but today I did a web search and found him, through your grace.

"Quin's Shanghai Circus" was given to me many years ago, in galley form, by a writer friend, Barry Farrell, who I believe had been asked to review it. I fell into the book and was so enthusiastic about it that I tried to option it and get someone interested in it as a film. No one was, but what a wild film it could be.

I had lost touch with Whittemore's writings after reading "Jerusalem Poker" and "Sinai Tapestry" and occasionally wondered about him. I can see his effect on writers like Tom R., especially in his latest book "Fierce Invalids".

I think they would have enjoyed each other and I'm sure I would have enjoyed hearing the conversation.

I hope the reissues will be met with the appreciation they deserve. I have ordered the two books from the quartet I had missed and look forward to reading them.

Thank you for keeping the light.

Peace, in wartime, Danny O'Keefe"
On the subject of interesting emails, there was an email sent to Nu Country earlier this week from Pete Finney, the steel guitar player in the Dixie Chicks band. He was keen to get a copy of one of the photographs I had taken at the Dixie Chicks show in 2006 and had included in my review of the concert on Nu Country, which shows him pictured with the three Chicks. He said it was rare to find such a photo as he’s normally stuck to the side of the stage and seldom gets into the picture. Surprisingly my photo, even though it was shot from a fair distance away from the stage, is quite sharp and faces are distinguishable and not just blurs. I sent him a copy in the original size and he was very grateful for it.

It’s a small world…

Autumn Racing Carnival – Week 5

This Saturday sees the running of the Group 1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield. For former star performer Miss Finland, it’s her last chance to prove herself as a race horse; otherwise she will be retired to the breeding barn. She was disappointing in the spring, winning only one race, and this autumn has not raced to expectations. There has been some criticism on the way Miss Finland was trained last year, and her trainer readily admits it was a mistake to try her out at longer distances. This year she is being aimed at middle distance races, so the Futurity, run over 1600 metres (a mile), should suit her down to the ground. Watching her performance this autumn in the shorter races, Miss Finland appears to be starting her run just as the race is about to finish. At present, she is the favourite for the Futurity – logical I suppose as she is the class horse in the field.

I made a few changes to my top 30 stable this week, seeing as how several of my selected runners have been retired or sustained injury, like Empire’s Choice, Wonderful World, Maldivian and Eremein. I’ve replaced them with Light Fantastic, Paratroopers, Sebring and Princess Coup.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Two new stars of the Australian turf

It's not every race day that you come across outstanding performances by young horses, but yesterday's Blue Diamond Stakes meeting resulted in the emergence of two young potential stars. First there was Light Fantastic's run in the Group 2 Perri Cutten Cup, where he won in sensational fashion, nudging out his stable mate Vivacious Spirit to win by a length. He is a handsome 3 year old grey gelding and it was only his third start. His racing debut was only four weeks ago on a country track on which occasion he won by several lengths. He also won his second start last week at Moonee Valley, scoring by two lengths. Of course the racing media has gone into rave mode since his win yesterday, but he does look to be a genuine potential star. Anyway, it sure will be interesting following his career from now on.

The other sensation of the day, was Weekend Hussler's win in the Oakleigh Plate, where he demolished his older rivals with an easy win. The Hussler was the star three year old performer last spring, and it appears he has come back better than ever. His trainer has always said he is the best horse he's ever trained. He may well be right.

New Zealand mare Princess Coup also caused a flurry when she won the St George Stakes against a strong field, which included group one winners, Maldivian, Mentality, Fuimicino and Magnus. Maldivian, despite starting favourite yet again, put in a shocker of a performance which doesn't encourage me to regard him as anything special, not that I ever thought him a truly first class performer anyway.

After all the excitement of the earlier races, the Blue Diamond itself was an anti climax. It was won by Reaan, a son of Hussonet, as is Weekend Hussler. I was however impressed by the run of Burgeis, who finished a close third.

So all in all it was great day to watch the races on television and I'm glad to have found another favourite to follow in Light Fantastic and also his stable mate, the filly Vivacious Spirit who was certainly not disgraced by her defeat.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Blues for a Sultry Day

I hot footed it down to Basement Discs at lunchtime today to catch Collard Greens & Gravy playing live. I say hot footed because I dressed inappropriately this morning donning boots instead of sandals, as the weather report was for rain and a cool change. The day so far has been warm and humid, so my feet feel a little warm.

The Collards put on a great show of splendid blues, drawn primarily from their latest CD Devil in the Woodpile. They are a trio ensemble, with Ian Collard providing vocals as well as playing harmonica and guitar, James Bridges playing tasteful slide guitar and Anthony Shortie on drums. Ian Collard has a superb voice rather reminiscent of Tim Buckley and it is appropriately suited to blues. He is also a very masterful harmonica player.

There was a reasonable crowd at Basement Discs to see the boys perform, as they are a popular local band and are recognised as one of the best blues outfits in the country.

Check out their My Space page to hear some of their songs.

There is a veritable feast of music acts performing at Basement Discs in March – Hans Theessink, a Dutch blues master, Danny O’Keefe, famous American singer songwriter, Ruthie Foster, also from the USA , the new queen of blues and soul, the wonderful Ron Sexsmith, from Canada and the renowned Aussie rock band Spectrum will be returning to the Basement stage at the end of the month.

So, lots of great lunchtime shows to look forward to.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rediscovering Barbara Pym

For the past few weeks, as well as still being in the process of rereading Whittemore, I’ve taken to reading Barbara Pym again. I have a small collection of her books which I haven’t looked at for years.

I started with Excellent Women, a very good choice it turns out, as it typifies the Pym style. The Barbara Pym style is basically a cosy type of story with handsome vicars, distressed gentle women, jumble sales and the making of endless cups of tea being common threads through all her novels. Nothing much really happens, certainly nothing shocking or violent, but they are page turners all the same and beautifully written. A delicate irony infuses Pym’s prose and sharp and witty observations of human frailties and foibles keep the reader interested and entertained.

The emphasis on churchy settings is not in any way religious, but rather used in a social context. There is an old fashioned charm to Barbara Pym’s novels, set as they are in the post war world of the 1950s, however her observations on the human condition are universal and thoroughly modern. She has been described as the chronicler of quiet lives and her characters are unremarkable people. The heroine of Excellent Women is Mildred (not a name you hear these days) Lathbury a youngish spinster, happy to be so. Her life is made interesting by the arrival of the Napiers, Rocky and Helena, to occupy the flat below hers. Helena Napier is an anthropologist and Rocky seems to exist solely as a charmer of women and as a social assett having spent the war in Italy attached to the Admiralty making Wrens feel at home in foreign parts. He’s a splendid character and Pym’s artistry as a writer is made patent through his characterisation as a shallow, but personable man.

Anthropologists also feature in Pym’s novels, as she worked for many years at the Africa Institute and had first hand acquaintance with the species. The wonderfully named Everard Bone is Helena Napier’s colleague and adds another dimension to Mildred’s quiet life which has until the advent of the Napiers, revolved around the local church scene and her part-time job of providing assistance to distressed gentlewomen.

Barbara Pym wrote twelve books in all, but only achieved fame shortly before her death, when she was nominated as the most underrated writer of the century by Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, in an article in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977.

I am currently reading A Glass of Blessings another of her well regarded early novels. I picked up two of her novels, missing from my collection today in a second hand bookshop.
They were Some Tame Gazelle and An Unsuitable Attachment.

Here’s the first paragraph from Some Tame Gazelle, to give you some idea of Pym’s style:

“The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down. Belinda had noticed it when they had met him for the first time at the vicarage last week and had felt quite embarrassed. Perhaps Harriet could say something to him about it. Her blunt jolly manner could carry off these little awkwardnesses much better than Belinda’s timidity. Of course he might think it none of their business, as indeed it was not, but Belinda rather doubted whether he thought at all, if one were to judge by the quality of his first sermon.”

Autumn Racing Carnival – Week 4

The carnival really heats up this weekend with two Group 1 races, the Blue Diamond Stakes for two year old colts and fillies and the Oakleigh Plate, another sprint.

The races are to be televised this week on free to air TV, so I won’t have to squander bandwidth watching the races on my computer, as I have been doing since the start of the carnival. Apache Cat won in spectacular fashion last week. He was trapped behind other horses approaching the straight and was lacking a clear run. His jockey guided him to the outside and he exploded, overtaking the leaders in the last 200 metres, and sailing past them to score by a length. It was the performance of a champion. He has a growing fan base and has always been very popular with race goers due to his unusual looks and honest performances.

This week sees the return of Weekend Hussler, the star colt of spring, and Mentality who hasn’t raced since last autumn, being trapped in Sydney last spring by the EI virus restrictions.

It is hard to pick a winner in two year old races so I have no idea who will be the winner of the Blue Diamond. All the runners have the potential and a filly is as likely to win as a colt. Two of my top 30 stable are competing – Exceedingly Good & Burgeis - so in terms of the competition I hope these two fill some places.

Sydney racing also has a few interesting contests with horses not seen since autumn last year resume – Racing to Win, Paratroopers and Bentley Biscuit to name a few. So it should be a good day of racing this Saturday

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Boys with Toys

B took possession of a new car on Monday. He traded in his conservative Honda sedan for a Mercedes sports coupe. I must admit it is a thing of beauty, a sleek silver machine with all mod cons or wankeries as I call them, like satellite navigation, automatic everything. Admittedly I am not a petrol head and have never learned to drive, so cars are not something I take very seriously and I normally can’t tell the difference between one car or another.

However, for B it is the attainment of an earthly desire. He’s been lusting for an expensive sports car for years and finally selected a Mercedes, based on several factors, like anti theft protection, seating etc. I had a ride in it last night, and I must admit it was comfy.

It’s a bit late for me, in terms of the song The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, to ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair. After all, I’m way past the age of thirty-seven. But at the age of sixty I can at least ride through Melbourne, or the Paris end of Collins Street, with the warm wind in my hair. Somehow that doesn’t quite capture the desperate romance of the original song.

Back in the days of my foolish twenties, boys with sports cars had a certain charm, and I did get to ride with a few of them.

One had a little red MG with fur lined doors and I remember my brother had a Citroen . The most memorable ride was after a wedding, where a fellow wedding guest and I took off after the celebrations in his red sports car - another MG - and went on a wild drive around Melbourne University, including the underground car park which was featured as a setting in the original Mad Max movie - then through the city to St Kilda Road. We swam in a fountain (pictured above) outside the Shrine of Remembrance, swigging Cointreau, before damply collapsing back in my little room in Parkville. In those days people did drink and drive as matter of course. It’s amazing we survived, though come to think of it, some didn’t.

Other stuff, cats included…

Yesterday we had an evaporative cooling system installed to combat the extreme heat of some of Melbourne’s summer days and nights. One of the workmen brought his dog with him – a large Labrador called Douglas. This of course alarmed the cats no end. Douglas chased Willy over the road and back again, Willy eventually taking refuge elsewhere. Lizzie took one look – eek! dog! - jumped the fence to next door and refused to come back home even when the dog had gone, maintaining a stubborn vigil on a shelf on the next door neighbour’s fence. The neighbour actually built the shelf for her some time ago as he doesn’t mind visits from our cats and provides handy fence jumping aids along the party fence. Timmy, on the other hand, held his ground and spent the day under a table, hissing if Douglas came near.

The three cats are getting on well these days, though Willy still maintains a wary distance from Timmy, unless, as was the case this morning, when he is very hungry he will barge in on Timmy’s plate and push him aside fearlessly. Lizzie has no problem with Timmy and these two elderly cats sit companionably together as if they were the best of friend

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lunchtime Concerts return to Basement Discs

Justin Grounds @ Basement Discs - 15 Feb 2008
On this pleasant sunny day in Melbourne I took the opportunity to see the first In Store performance for the year at Basement Discs. The artist was Justin Grounds, an ex patriot English singer songwriter and multi instrumentalist. He was there promoting his latest CD “Love is Strong as Death”. It was a very impressive performance with Justin accompanying his singing with guitar and violin and a sound effects machine which added depth to his performance. He has a great voice reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and he writes intelligent and literate songs. You can listen to some of his music on My Space and watch a video or two there as well. I recommend you listen to “The Earth is A Woman” track. He played that today and I thought it was pretty gorgeous.

Next week. local Melbourne Blues band Collard, Greens & Gravy are In Store. I’ve heard them many times before and they are a great little ensemble.

Autumn Racing Carnival – Week 3

Tomorrow sees the racing program move to Moonee Valley for the running of the Group 1 Australia Stakes. It’s another sprint and Apache Cat will be endeavouring to make it two in a row. He certainly does look to be the one to beat as he handles the Moonee Valley track well and is in form. Miss Finland will be competing too, along with former top Sydney sprinter Dance Hero. It promises to be an interesting race.

Maldivian last week did not impress, so I have second thoughts on his ability to be competitive this autumn. The fillies I was interested in didn’t do too badly with Sugar Babe and Burgeis at least running strongly into second and third places in the Blue Diamond Prelude.

Several other horses in my top 30 stable are racing in Sydney tomorrow – God’s Hand, She’s Meaner, Stripper and Empire’s Choice. I’ll be following their progress through the afternoon

Friday, February 08, 2008

Autumn Racing Carnival – Week 2

Another Group 1 race is to be run tomorrow at Caulfield. The Orr Stakes, run over 1400 metres sees the return of Maldivian who caused all the drama on Caulfield Cup day last year when, as race favourite, he reared in the barrier stalls and cut himself badly on some video equipment attached to the stall, and was subsequently scratched from the race.

As are most of the Orr Stakes field, Maldivian is a distance galloper so there is some doubt as to Maldivian’s ability to win this race, but he does look to be one of the class horses in the field and class generally prevails.

Also on the cards tomorrow are the Blue Diamond Preludes for 2 year old colts and fillies that also should be interesting to watch, especially the fillies race, where I am curious to see how fillies, like Burgeis, Sugar Babe, Piece of The Sky and Chilean Miss perform.

Other stuff…

An interesting connection between Edward Whittemore and the Myst and Uru games has come to my notice, via web stats on the Jerusalem Dreaming site. A fan of the Uru games at this site has paid homage to Whittemore by composing a story that is inspired by the mythology of the computer games, but written in a Whittemore style. He’s done quite a good job of it as the Whittemore imagery and style is easily recognizable.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Currently reading…

At the moment I am half way through The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, an unusual fantasy set in Moscow or rather in an alternative Moscow. I am finding it an engrossing story, ideal commuting literature. At the same time I am rereading Edward Whittemore, on the hunt for quotations to include in a prospective 2009 Whittemore Calendar. Despite the fact that I have read Whittemore’s books many times, I find it as ever a pleasure to read them again. There’s something addictive about his prose style and it is a joy to reacquaint myself with his fascinating characters. Reading the books in the light of sussing out quotes, only enhances my appreciation of Whittemore's style.

Prior to picking up The Secret History of Moscow, I read a couple of books I borrowed from my brother at Christmas. One was DBC Pierre’s Ludmila’s Broken English and the other was The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. The former is a crazy story involving conjoined twins and Russian brides with a totally outrageous, sometimes shocking plot. I really enjoyed DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little which won the Booker prize some years ago, and though Ludmila is a completely different kettle of fish, it is distinctly the work of DBC Pierre nonetheless. I once saw an interview with the man and he came across as a very interesting individual.

The Chabon book is excellent; I was immensely impressed with it. It is an alternate history of sorts, the novel being set in an imaginary Jewish settlement in Alaska. It is a noirish hardboiled detective mystery novel, but is much more than that. It is melancholy and haunting and not in the least a conventional detective novel. I highly recommend you read it.

Whilst on the subject of books, the publication of the
25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big is surely imminent and I can hardly wait to receive my copy and see it in all its glory. Meanwhile, there is a very good essay by Michael Dirda on John Crowley's Aegypt Sequence in The American Scholar – read it online here. As was my opinion, Dirda concurs that it is a masterpiece. All the books in the Aegypt quartet will be back in print by the end of the year, courtesy of Overlook Press.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Kacey Jones and Becky Hobbs at the Noise Bar

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Kacey Jones

The Kacey Jones and Becky Hobbs show on Friday night at the Noise Bar was quite enjoyable and I was glad I was there to see and hear it. Kacey in particular was riveting. She has a very mordant wit, and is laugh out loud funny. Her risque feminist songs were a hoot and her stage presence and presentation was cheerful and ironic. She and BecKy took turns to sing songs and I found myself looking forward to Kacey's offerings with more anticipation than to Becky's. Becky was exclusively a keyboard artist and sang more country orientated songs. She was joined at one stage by local country artist Leslie Avril who performed Becky's song "Cowgirl's Heart" with Becky providing piano accompaniment and vocal backing. I did however meet Becky before the show and she was a very sweet and friendly person and obliged me by posing for a portrait shot.

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Becky Hobbs

The opening act was Snowy Townsend's Bona Fide Travellers who play a type of country rock. They were pretty good, and performed some good covers of Bob Dylan, Randy Newman among others.

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Snowy Townsend's Bona Fide Travellers

All in all it was an entertaining evening and the venue, to which I had never been before, was pleasant and laid back. We managed to get seats close to the stage, so it was comfortable as well.

Update on the Lightning Stakes

Apache Cat won the Lightning Stakes yesterday and proved what a good racehorse he is. Gold Edition started the short priced favourite, but only managed to come fourth. She apparently pulled up lame, whereupon her connections announced her immediate retirement from racing. Known as the iron lady of racing, she's been a joy to follow and I for one will miss her. Now of course I'll have to replace her in my top 30 stable (below) with another horse. I think I will replace her with Marching who appears to be the favourite for the Caulfield Guineas.

Friday, February 01, 2008

2008 Autumn Racing Carnival begins on Saturday

I’ve been slack on the blogging front of late, but truth to tell there’s been little to blog about or I haven’t felt inspired to write.

Anyway, for racing enthusiasts the good news is that the Australian autumn racing season kicks off on Saturday with the first Group 1 race, the Lightning Stakes, at Flemington race course. It has a crack field of sprinters and should be a very interesting race to watch. The iron mare, Gold Edition will be contending with Miss Finland who is returning after a disappointing spring campaign. Also in the picture is my old favourite Apache Cat who could cause an upset. He races very well fresh, but then so do Gold Edition and Miss F.

The equine influenza virus crisis has now passed, so Sydney and other interstate racing clubs are back in action. Sydney has a major carnival during autumn, running time honoured and famous races such as the Golden Slipper and the Doncaster Handicap. Haradasun won the Doncaster last year. He’s been exported to Ireland, so won’t be contending in any Australian races this year, but is likely to be racing in the UK later this year.

There is no autumn super stable competition so I’ve settled for the next best thing, the autumn 2008 Top 30 competition on the Racing & Sports web site.

In this competition one selects a stable of 30 horses. One earns points according to Group level, placing etc. and score extra points if any horses in the stable run a quinella or trifecta.
It gets quite complex later on in the competition when substituting inactive horses with active runners, but I have selected my initial stable as follows:


The above represents what I hope to be a good mix of sprinters, milers and stayers along with likely 2 year colts and fillies for the Blue Diamond and Golden Slipper. In any case they are all potential winners and I shall enjoy following their fortunes over the coming months.

Other news…

Tonight I am going to see a couple of singers from Nashville, Kacey Jones and Beccy Hobbs aka “The Shameless Hussy & the Cowgirl”. I have never heard any of their records, nor have I seen them perform before. The show is a Nu Country promotion and I have been given free admission, so I feel obliged to go, even if the music is unlikely to be to my taste. You never know, I might be pleasantly surprised, so I’m not really going with any preconceptions, other than an expectation of being entertained by undoubtedly professional artists. Both ladies are old troupers. Kacey Jones is known as a comedienne with a bent for feminist songs.