Monday, November 30, 2015

November Music

During the past month I have been to three concerts, only one of which featured International artists, the others being performed by local musicians.

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Fleetwood Mac at Rod Laver Arena - 4 November 2015

The first was the Fleetwood Mac concert at Rod Laver Arena on the day after the Melbourne Cup.  I never was a big Fleetwood Mac fan, but of course their songs were familiar, so I went along with an open mind and enjoyed the the concert, it exceeding my expectations over all.

Fleetwood Mac played for over 2½ hours and their set covered 19 songs with the band returning for two encores.  They played all their hits, Rhiannon, Go Your Own Way, Landslide, The Chain and You Make Loving Fun etc.

We (that is my ex neighbour B & I) travelled to St Kilda for the second show on the 14th November,  a concert celebrating Neil Young’s 70th Birthday at Memo Music Hall.

A sterling line up of local Melbourne musicians performed songs from Neil Young’s repertoire over several hours.  Led by guitar maestro Shane O’Mara and his ace band,  it featured Lisa Miller, Rebecca Barnard, Chris Wilson & Sarah Carroll, Angie Hart, Nick Barker, Gallie and Simon Bailey.

It was the first time I’d been to the venue, which is run by the same mob who manage Caravan Music Club. It is a comfortable space at the back of St Kilda RSL in Acland Street.  I’d certainly go there again.

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Angie Hart – Memo 14 November 2015

The concert was excellent, with the various artists presenting great versions of Neil Young’s songs, including Old Man, Wrecking Ball, Needle & The Damage Done etc, etc.

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Nick Barker – Memo 14 November 2015

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Gallie – Memo 14 November 2015

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Chris Wilson – Memo 14 November 2015

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Shane O’Mara – Memo 14 November 2015

An Evening With Robert Forster was the most recent concert I attended and it was closer to home at Thornbury Theatre.

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Robert Forster live at Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

I must admit I am not familiar with the career of Robert Forster  formerly of the Go-Betweens, and would not have thought of attending the show if I hadn’t been invited by ex neighbour B to go. 

He is acknowledged as one of  Australia’s top singer songwriters and writes clever quirky songs that are performed with great panache. His music reminded me of Talking Heads and I believe they were one of his major influences along with Lou Reed and the 1970s New York rock scene.

He had two support acts, the first being a David Bowie tribute band, The Thin White Ukes. As their band name suggests they perform David Bowie songs with ukuleles and are very entertaining. They are Betty France (soprano ukulele) Michael Dwyer (concert ukulele) Rob Stephens (baritone ukulele).

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The Thin White Ukes live at Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

They played a short set of David Bowie songs that included Starman. Ashes to Ashes and Golden Years.

Jen Cloher, singer songwriter partner to Aria winner Courtney Barnett was the second support and played a gritty set of tunes from her repertoire and included one Gillian Welch cover, Everything Is Free, in the mix.  I have never listened to her music before so wouldn’t have a clue as to the names of her songs, though she did mention the name of two of them, one written when she was in New Zealand to care for her ailing parents and entitled My Mother’s Desk and the other called Mount Beauty about obsessive love.

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Jen Cloher live at Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

She also called The Thin White Ukes back to the stage for two songs.

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Jen Cloher & Betty France live at Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

With the two support acts warming up the audience for over an hour, it was quite late in the evening when Robert Forster and his excellent band took the stage.

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Robert Forster live at Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

They were worth waiting for and from the first song, I knew I was going to enjoy his act enormously and continued to be beguiled throughout his set.

He has recently released his first new album in seven years, entitled Songs To Play, and has been touring in support of it.

Several songs from the record were performed on the night - Songwriters On The Run and I Love Myself (And I Always Have), Turn On The Rain are three I recognise from the night

I must say his band was terrific. They were Scott Bramley and Luke McDonald of The John Steel Singers playing guitar, keyboards and bass, and Robert Forster’s wife Karin Baumler contributed  tasteful violin and backing vocals.

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Scott Bramley & Luke McDonald – Thornbury Theatre 27/11/15

On December 11th B and I return to the Caravan Music Club for Jeff Duff’s  Bowie Unzipped performance. I’m not sure what to expect, but no doubt it will be entertaining and unusual, so thanks B for the invitation and for expanding my musical horizons with shows I normally wouldn’t attend.

The big news last week was of a return tour by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings after an absence of 11 years. They’re doing two shows in Melbourne, one with the regular duo, the other with the band known as The David Rawlings Machine a fortnight later.  I intend to go to both, and have tickets already for the second concert, buying them this morning on the pre-sale. Amazingly, I managed to score really good seats. Hopefully at the public sale tomorrow, I can get seats of equal quality for the first concert – cross fingers I get lucky.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Costume Drama with Magic–Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

For the past week I’ve been in thrall watching the superb translation to screen of one of my favourite novels, that being Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, published in 2004.

Most of the time when you watch a screen version of favourite novels there is a sense of disappointment, but not so in this case. The casting is spot on, the cinematography is wondrous to behold, and the book is translated faithfully to screen.

Of course there are some gaps, but it is understandable in the case of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, it being a voluminous complex book with a multitude of delightful footnotes, which are only fleetingly quoted in the TV series.

The story is an alternate history of England set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, where Magic has been rediscovered after a long period of disuse.

Two magicians, the eponymous gentlemen of the title, have found a way to practice magic, Mr Norrell drawing his knowledge from books, Jonathan Strange having a natural talent for it.

Mr Norrell is the first to demonstrate practical magic, causing statues in a cathedral to come to life, and raising Lady Pole from the dead.

The latter act has consequences that involve the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair, who claims half of Lady Pole’s life in exchange for his help in her resurrection.  The Gentleman is a Fairy whose motives are not in the least benevolent.

The DVD version of the BBC TV Series contains the full 7 episodes and I watched one episode a night, not wishing to rush through it, but savour each episode as it happened.

I’m left haunted by it along with a strong desire to read the novel again, which I recall is elegantly written in a dry witty tone.

The screen version of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a high quality production and one of the best I’ve seen. The sets and costumes are magnificent and the cast, as mentioned before, are true to character.

Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different to watch from the usual fare.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Carnival Finale–Emirates Stakes Day

Mounting Yard Gate for Emirates Stakes Day

A light shower of rain passed through last Saturday morning, but the afternoon was  lovely, mild and slightly overcast with good light for photography.

The public lawn at Flemington was still very damp from Thursday’s downpour, but that didn’t discourage patrons from spreading themselves all over it. Ankle biters were in abundance, Emirate Stakes Day being traditionally a family day, but it wasn’t overcrowded and it was easy to wend through the crowd or get a drink.

I arrived early at Flemington, keen to watch Divan run in the second race on the program. I’ve been following him for over year, though he is very lightly raced, only starting seven times. He’s regally bred being by Zabeel out of champion New Zealand mare Seachange. At his last outing he ran second to the Gai Waterhouse trained The Offer in the Bendigo Cup (2400 metres).

He was coming back in distance for the Starlight Children’s Plate to 2000 metres and accounted for his opposition, easily winning by a length from Velox and Have Plenty. He looks a promising young stayer and hopefully will be back in autumn for a few races, though his owner Lloyd Williams is hoping to get him qualified for the 2016 Melbourne Cup.

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Divan winning the Starlight Children’s Plate

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Divan returns to scale after winning the Starlight Children’s Plate

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Velox in the mounting yard

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Have Plenty in the mounting yard

The program for Emirate Stakes Day was much classier than that of the Oaks and race 3 was the Group 3 Queen’s Cup (formerly the Queen Elizabeth Stakes) run over 2600 metres, a sort of consolation prize for stayers who didn’t qualify for the Melbourne Cup field.

A small field of 8  horses were contesting it and British galloper Secret Number started as favourite.

However, Darren Weir, the Melbourne Cup winning trainer’s roll continued with Dandino taking the prize. He was to win another in race 4, when Michelle Payne guided home 7/1 shot Palentino to  register a good win.

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Darren Weir near Dandino’s Stall

Dandino won by almost 2 lengths from Secret Number with Don Doremo running third.

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Dandino on his way to the barriers

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Secret Number

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Don Doremo

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Queen’s Cup finish – Dandino, Secret Number & Don Doremo

As previously mentioned, the Darren Weir trained Palentino won race 4, the Hilton Hotels & Resorts Stakes (1400 metres) from Demonstrate and race favourite Ngarimu.

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Palentino ridden by Michelle Payne returns to scale after winning the Resorts Stakes

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Race 4 finish – Palentino wins easily

It’s a fair hike from the winning post to the stalls area, so you get plenty of exercise if you want to take photos. I must have tramped back and forth at least six times over the course of the afternoon. 

Here are some of the contenders for the two Group 1 races photographed in their stalls.

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Arod – Emirates Stakes

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Bow Creek – Emirates Stakes

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Moriarty – Emirates Stakes

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Turn Me Loose  - Emirates Stakes

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Politeness – Emirates Stakes

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Boban – Darley Classic

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Buffering – Darley Classic

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Chautauqua – Darley Classic

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Delectation – Darley Classic

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Flamberge – Darley Classic

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Terravista – Darley Classic

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Lucia Valentina – Matriarch Stakes

Back trackside, Race 5, the Antler Luggage Handicap (1600 metres) was the next race on the program, after which there wasn’t long to wait for the first of the Group 1 events, the Darley Classic.

Rhythm To Spare won the Antler Luggage Handicap from Defiant Angel and Setinum.

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Race 5 finish – Rhythm To Spare on his way to winning the Antler Luggage  Handicap

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Rhythm To Spare returns to scale

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Defiant Angel

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Chautauqua was understandably hot favourite to take out the Group 1 Darley Classic, but the heavy track inhibited his powerful sprint and Delectation from the Chris Waller stable pipped him at the post. Last year’s winner, Terravista, managed to run third with old Buffering hanging on for fourth.

The photo of the finish is taken from an odd viewpoint as the field was spread out across the track, so no clear winner is evident. However it’s a dramatic shot that I’m quite pleased with.

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Darley Classic finish – Delectation (foreground) Chautauqua (far right) Terravista and Buffering behind.

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Delectation returns to scale

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The Group 1 Emirates Stakes was up next and my top pick was the young New Zealand stallion Turn Me Loose, trained by Caulfield Cup winning trainer Murray Baker. I’d been impressed with Turn Me Loose’s  win in the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day where he led from start to finish.

He did the same in the Emirates Stakes and hung on to win narrowly over the fast finishing Politeness. Outsider, Rock Sturdy ran third.

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Emirates Stakes finish – horses spread across the track

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Turn Me Loose returns to scale after winning the Emirates Stakes

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Politeness playing up as she is guided to the starting gates

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Rock Sturdy on his way to the starting gates

I stayed for Race 8, the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes as I was keen to see Lucia Valentina in action and hoping that she would win. She hadn’t won a race since winning the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes last spring.

The Matriarch Stakes is a race for mares over 2000 metres, and it was the easiest race she had contested for over a year, her latest runs being in top class events.

Her class prevailed and the heavy going suited her.  She won by a length from Manageress with Casino Dancer taking third place.

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Matriarch Stakes finish – Lucia Valentina is the widest  runner in the picture

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Lucia Valentina on her way to the barriers

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Manageress returns to scale

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Casino Dancer on her way to the barriers

And so ended what turned out to be a fantastic Spring Racing Carnival.

It all started fairly quietly back in August with a variety of horses winning the major Group 1 events. The only horse to win more than one Group 1 race was Winx, whose Cox Plate victory was the highlight of the season. Her other Group 1 win was the Epsom Stakes at Randwick, another spectacular performance.

Other highlights:

Chautauqua’s three wins this spring in the Group 2 McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley in September, the Group 2 Gilgai Stakes at Caulfield and the Group 1 Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley in October.

Mongolian Khan’s Caulfield Cup, Prince of Penzance and Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup,  Jameka’s Crown Oaks, and Turn Me Loose in the Emirates Stakes.

Remarkably the three big events of the season were all won by locally (including New Zealand) bred horses and the much hyped Internationals and Imports were generally missing in action. Perhaps Australia’s staying stocks are not that bad after all and certainly New Zealand bred stayers are still a force to be reckoned with.

There is quite an interesting meeting at Sandown this coming Saturday, but I am not inclined to attend, content to watch it from home.

After that Perth has a brief Spring Racing carnival featuring three excellent Group 1 races, then it’s Christmas and the horse racing dead season until late January when it all sparks up again with the Group 2 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley.

There are however the Gold Coast Magic Millions two and three year old races in January which are generally pretty interesting in light of the Golden Slipper and Blue Diamond Stakes.

I won’t know what to do with myself on Saturday afternoons from now on, but no doubt I’ll find something else to write about; music and books for instance.

As for the punt this racing season, I hardly had a bet so my racing outings were all pretty cheap. My sole good win was on the Caulfield Cup with a bonus bet on my online Sportsbet account.