Sonic journey

Posted: November 24, 2014 in music
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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!

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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.

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It wasn’t meant to end like this. Not this way.

Anyone with half a football brain knew that whatever unifying effect the fallen Neymar may have had on the Brazilian team, it was unlikely to be enough to beat Germany.

To lose a close-fought match is one thing but to be so completely and utterly humiliated, not only by the ruthless brilliance of your opponent but also through your own staggering incompetence, is quite another. For it to happen to Brazil of all nations? In a World Cup semi-final? At home? It still beggars the imagination.

And yet, being in Brazil these past few weeks there was a sense that while organisers had been frantically papering over the obvious cracks in the infrastructure, Luis Felipe Scolari had been doing much the same on the field. Neymar’s luminescence couldn’t completely conceal Brazil’s alarming shortcomings in defence and with Thiago Silva’s absence, the whole thing unravelled. In their increasing desperation to erase the ghosts of 1950, they sowed the seeds of a disaster that will long outlive the Maracananzo in infamy.

Has there ever been a more shambolic defensive display at this level than that of David Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo and the ironic Dante? An inferno indeed. Incredibly, of course, David Luiz’s transfer to Paris St Germain has just made him the world’s most expensive defender. I do hope they kept the receipt.

Watching the game was a strange experience, going from surprise and shock to eventual embarrassment and nervous laughter. The Brazilian fans, who to their credit stood and applauded their German conquerors, probably felt much the same and it is they who I really feel sorry for.

Whatever unrealistic expectations they may have had of their clay-footed heroes, their infectious joy and emotion, and generosity to visitors, has done much more than any confected FIFA hype to create a truly memorable tournament.

I have no doubt that there will be much anger among them now, which may increase to dangerous levels once the final is finished on Sunday. The irony of one cruel joke doing the rounds – that this was Brazil’s biggest World Cup loss since paying for this one – will not be lost on them.

Victory would not have assuaged any of the deep socio-economic issues that afflict this beautiful country but on a football level it mattered. It really mattered.

For all their big fat salaries and sponsorship deals, this defeat – and indeed the manner of Germany’s victory – was a reminder to the big name players that this is what the game is truly about. As Danny Blanchflower, captain of the famous Tottenham Hotspur side of the early 1960s, memorably once put it: “The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” It is matches like this that are remembered, not your latest Nike or Beats ad.

It may take time but Brazil and its football will recover from this. There have been, after all, five world titles since 1950. It will recover precisely and perversely because of nights like July 8, 2014.

Except that now we all want to play like Germany, not Brazil.

Tchau, Brasil!

Posted: July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

Heading home from Brazil today. Here are links to my final World Cup Diary posts for The Royal Gazette:

Obrigado, Brasil!

On the Beach

Party nation

Posted: June 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Brazil is still nursing a national hangover after celebrating Saturday’s dramatic win over Chile. See my latest World Cup Diary in The Royal Gazette.

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World Cup diary

Posted: June 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Links to my recent posts from Brazil for The Royal Gazette:

1950 and all that

Ayrton Senna: a national treasure

Farewell, England

It was a painful night for England fans in São Paolo, but Luis Suarez was something special. My latest World Cup diary post.