Low: Life after Bowie

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

For previous generations it might have been seeing Elvis or The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. For many of my generation, growing up in the early 1970s, our musical epiphany was on Thursday, July 6, 1972 – the night David Bowie sang Starman on Top Of The Pops and changed rock music forever.

It was, given the huge audience and influence that TOTP had in those pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-gender fluid days, a jaw-dropping performance. With his spiky orange hair, space-age clobber and androgynous appearance, Bowie looked and sounded like no pop star had ever done before. Shocked Middle England (TOTP was a weekly, almost religious prime-time family ritual back then) had certainly seen nothing like it. I remember my father saying he was “not sure if he was a boy or a girl” (a prescient observation that I like to think Bowie swiped a few years later for Rebel Rebel). For a 14-year-old, it all seemed thrillingly subversive.

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Je suis … ?

Posted: January 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

Like 9/11, 7/7 and so many other dates now seared into our collective memories, 7/1 is another that will forever be associated with the deadly vengeance of Islamic extremists.

With the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket shootings in Paris followed by news of the horrifying massacres by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the public flogging of activist Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia it has been a depressing and disturbing week.

My emotions have run the gamut from shock and outrage to fear and defiance.  It has made me question what that freedom really means to me and what my values and beliefs are. As a former journalist, I have had conflicted feelings about freedom of speech and the role of the media. Like many others I was quick to change my Facebook profile to “Je Suis Charlie” in solidarity. However after the last few days of debating, reading and watching the deluge of coverage, I’m inclined to change it to a more nuanced “avec Charlie”.

Here are ten things I’ve learned this past week:

  1. Charlie Hebdo is a marginal satirical magazine in Paris that now has a worldwide circulation of more than a million.
  2. Its writers and cartoonists were brave and did not deserve to die.
  3. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is even braver.
  4. Publishing a caricature of Mohammed on the front cover of Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue was insensitive and needlessly provocative.
  5. Poking fun at Muslims is considered freedom of speech. Satire of Israel is anti-Semitic.
  6. On October 17, 1961, Paris police killed an estimated 200 Algerians protesting against the Algerian War and dumped their bodies in the Seine.
  7. Around 40 percent of Muslims in European countries want to live under sharia law with its stoning of adulterers and execution of those who renounce the faith. The figure is reportedly higher among 16-24 year olds, many of whom want Western countries to become Islamic states.
  8. We may aspire to the oft-quoted ideal, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”[Voltaire did not say it, by the way], but we can no longer afford to tolerate intolerance.
  9. A photo op in Paris is worth more to world leaders than one in Baga, Nigeria.
  10. If there is such a thing as Satan, Boko Haram are his foot soldiers.

And finally one thing I didn’t.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many lives for a cartoon?

Rewind: Picks of the year

Posted: January 1, 2015 in music, Uncategorized

Tis the season for list-making  so here’s my annual look back at the albums I enjoyed listening to most in 2014. You can  listen to whole albums via the Spotify links provided (where available) or sample 50 of my favourite tracks on this special Spotify playlist.

 

1lewis. The Voyager – Jenny Lewis

“Where you come from gets the best of you,” sings Jenny Lewis on the title track of her third solo album. After a challenging period dealing with the breakup of her band, the wonderful Rilo Kiley, the death of her father and years of insomnia, Lewis channeled all that into arguably her most polished album to date. Her talent of combining acerbic, bittersweet lyrics with gloriously catchy melodies has never sounded better.

>> Listen to the album on Spotify

 

Robert-Plant-lullaby-and-The-Ceaseless-Roar_6382. lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar – Robert Plant

While former bandmate Jimmy Page noodles endlessly with Led Zeppelin master tapes, Robert Plant continues to widen his musical horizons, exploring the far corners of Americana, folk and world music. Backed by the Sensational Space Shifters, Lullaby was another eclectic triumph. Rainbow was one of my favourite tracks of the year.

 

atkins3. Slow Phaser – Nicole Atkins

I fell in love with Nicole Atkins’ extraordinary contralto voice – somewhere between Roy Orbison and Lana Del Ray – and brilliant songwriting a couple of years ago and this, her self-released third album, did not disappoint, ricocheting from country rock to faux disco via music hall with ease. She deserves to be so much bigger.

>> Listen to the album on Spotify

 

now-porongs4. Brill Bruisers – New Pornographers

The New Pornographers rarely fail to deliver and their latest was exuberant power pop at its best with Neko Case’s Marching Orders the standout track of a very fine set.

>> Listen to the album on Spotify 

 

sonic_Highways5. Sonic Highways – Foo Fighters

Had I not seen Dave Grohl’s accompanying HBO series, this would have probably passed me by like every other Foo Fighters album. But their journey across America, writing and recording a track in each of eight cities, absorbing the musical culture and history along the way, was fascinating. Watching the songs take shape made the album much more rewarding.

>> Listen to the album on Spotify

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This time last year, part of The Royal Gazette‘s history died with its former editor, David White. Twelve months on, we are mourning the loss of another Gazette legend, the cartoonist Peter Woolcock.

His weekly cartoons in the Gazette were as much a part of the political landscape as the politicians themselves. He poked fun at the pomposity and small-town absurdity of it all, not with the cruel barbs of a Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman, but a gentle mocking humour and a knowing wink that more often than not even brought a smile to those being drawn, many of whom paid him for the originals. Woolcock himself admitted (in the video interview below) that he couldn’t do what political cartoonists did in the UK or the US. “They really are sometimes pretty vicious,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any room or need for that here.”

They very much reflected his personality – gentlemanly, modest, compassionate with a deprecating sense of humour and, as Andrew Trimingham, reviewing Woolcock’s annual Woppened collection of Gazette cartoons, once put it, “an unerring instinct for silliness”.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to British parents, and a Second World War veteran, he came to Bermuda in 1981 and began drawing his political cartoons in 1983, first in the Bermuda Sun and then the Gazette.

A consummate draughtsman who worked in pen, ink and watercolour wash, he had cut his illustrative teeth in what he later called “the golden era of cartoons” in the 1950s, spending more than 30 years drawing for children’s books and comic strips, including The Adventures of Mr. Toad (his favourite), Tiger Tim, and several Disney books – 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, Jungle Book, Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh – although he found conforming to Disney’s strict character formats stifling compared to creating his own.

When I was editor of RG Magazine in the 1990s, Peter was a frequent visitor to our offices – either to chat and share a spot of gossip that usually started with a conspiratorial “Of course, what I heard was …” or deliver one of his splendid works.

We commissioned him to do several Vanity Fair-style illustrations for the magazine, among them two of my favourite covers – a smug Premier David Saul in 1996 and Colonel David Burch in 2000. Burch was Premier Jennifer Smith’s Chief of Staff at the time but was much mocked as being little more than the Premier’s bag carrier. The famous bag, of course, was in the picture too.

Peter Woolcock was truly a national treasure and was tragically killed yesterday after being hit by a car on his way to deliver what would be his last hand-drawn cartoon for the Gazette. Ever the old-school traditionalist (there were never scanned or digitally-produced images e-mailed to the editor, of course), at 88 he still believed in the personal touch.

That touch will be sadly missed. His passing really is the end of an era.

 


 

Listen to Peter talk about his art and career in this 2009 interview by Milton Raposo.

Crest of a wave

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Bermuda
Tags: ,

 

Bermuda has understandably gone a bit bonkers over the awarding of the 2017 America’s Cup. I don’t think there could have been much more widespread excitement if we had landed the Olympics. It’s a massive achievement for the Island and kudos to all those involved in the successful bid – an amazing job!

Not only is this a great honour to host one the world’s greatest and oldest sporting events but everyone from restaurant wait staff and retailers to construction and international business seems to understand that this offers a huge opportunity for Bermuda to reboot its economy and give the flagging tourism industry a shot in the arm.

Of course once the celebrations have died down, the real work begins. My hope is that the organisers ride the wave of goodwill and engage the whole Island in the staging of the event because let’s face it, the America’s Cup is the epitome of a rich white man’s sport. But this event is so important to the Island’s future that it is essential that as many people – black, white, sailors and non-mariners – are made to feel a part of it and given ways to contribute and be involved.

I have no doubt that Bermudians will rise to the occasion and put on a fantastic event. And while everyone hopes to cash in on the expected surge in visitors, it would be nice to think that the airlines and hotels will play their part and not use it as an excuse to gouge tourists. One of the important legacies of the America’s Cup must be that a lot of people discover Bermuda, have an incredible experience and want to come back. Ripping them off and having a ‘tude isn’t going to help.

And let’s hope politicians on both sides don’t use it to score cheap points (who am I kidding, right?). So please, no gloating from the OBA, and while the PLP is absolutely right to demand that Government is transparent about the costs and important decisions it will make over the next few years,  I hope they pick their fights carefully.

We are, so to speak, all in the same boat in making sure the 35th America’s Cup is a huge success.

 

Sonic journey

Posted: November 24, 2014 in music
Tags: , ,

On a sonic journey: Dave Grohl

For no good reason I can think of, I’ve never been a big fan of Nirvana or the Foo Fighters, which is odd given the impact that punk rock had on me in my late teens, as indeed it did on them. However I do have a lot of time for Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer and the driving force behind the Foo Fighters, the hugely successful band he formed in 1994.

What I admire in Grohl is his musical authenticity and curiosity. By that I mean his connection and appreciation of the culture and history that has shaped and influenced popular music since the latter part of the 20th century.

In recent years he has turned filmmaker and delved a bit deeper into this. In 2012 he made a documentary about Sound City, the legendary studio in Van Nuys, California where Nirvana recorded the Nevermind album and which Grohl later bought and restored. It’s a fascinating film featuring some of the great bands that recorded there (such as Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Neil Young and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to name a few) and well worth seeing for any music fan.

He has just completed an equally compelling film, a nine-part series called Sonic Highways, currently showing on HBO, to accompany the new Foo Fighters album of the same name.

The project follows a musical journey Grohl and the band made, travelling to nine American cities, spending a week in each place, absorbing their musical culture, and writing and recording a track based on their experience. Grohl’s lyrics for each song are based on the interviews he made with musicians from each place.

The result is what Grohl has called “unravelling of our musical influences” and is an intriguing take on both American music history and the regional nuances that have shaped – and continue to shape – the sounds we hear today.

Some, like New Orleans jazz, are more obvious than others – although I didn’t appreciate how much the region’s humidity contributed to its unique sound because of how it affected the instruments. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to have never heard of go-go music, a wonderful funk sub culture of 1970s Washington DC.  You can hear Grohl talk more about the making of the film in a recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered.

Those of you that share the same 50s vintage as Grohl and myself, or are into music history, will get a kick out of this film but I hope it provides a connection for younger listeners too. Knowing where music comes from and how it influenced your favourite artists opens up a whole new world of music to explore and widens your horizons. When I was growing up, for example, it was through artists like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart that I learnt to appreciate blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed, the soul of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and the genius of Bob Dylan.

As for the Sonic Highways album itself? It’s obviously interesting as a companion to the film but I’ll have to give it a few more plays before I am converted!

Football focus

Posted: October 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

England Expects

Better late than never. Have edited and posted some of my favourite shots from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil on my EyedropFX photo blog. Fooftball Fever includes a gallery of crowd/stadium shots while Journey to Brazil features a few of the sights.

For more of my iPhoneography, check out my EyedropFX Flickr feed.