Sunday, November 19, 2006

Christmas posts #2

Nothing, I repeat NOTHING! is as evocative of Christmas for me than Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales." It sums up for me everything that childhood meant and that it felt like. When i'm able to capture those ghosts of my past, this is what it feels like the most, friends, family, tradition, innocence, fun, warmth and a sense of home.

I had a tape of a tv adaptation that we'd recorded (Dad I mean) off the television using the new found technological revolution...the cassette recorder! With microphone pointing to the tv speaker, no-one must speak, but you could hear the stifled winter sniffs and coughs in the background, and the scraping of knives on plates as we ate our tea (evening meals are called "tea" where I come from)

Every year starting about halfway through November, Christmas really began when I brought out the tape..which also had snippets of the movie "White Christmas" preceding Dylan's story. It was a ritual and every night I'd stir my excitement listening to the tape in bed before sleep...back when there were wolves in Wales......

I no longer have that tape, it's long since disappeared into the mists of time, but oh what i'd give to hear it again. I've got Dylan reading the tale himself, but that isn't quite as evocative as my taped tv version, wish I had it again...if anyone reads this and knows how to get it please e mail me!

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen...."

mp3 download here

Friday, November 17, 2006

First album...thats 33rpm...12" size!!

I'm lying on my back laptop on my stomach, earphones plugged in listening to Queen Live in Rio, a bootleg I just downloaded off the 'net, and low and behold it's made me look back to my first ever album. Now that's VINYL folks, you know the stuff that used to come in big 12" slipcases with artwork you noticed, and sleeve notes you bothered to read. I swear I could have recited by heart the names of the songs, the band, the producer, engineer and tea lady on all my vinyl stuff. Now I couldn't even tell you the titles of the tracks on my favourite cds. Last Sunday I went to see Muse at the Cardiff International Arena, fucking amazing show..but me and my mate Gaz...about 5,000+ cds between us couldn't name half the titles of the songs, and I bleeding love their stuff....its never off the car stereo.

Anyway I digress, Its Christmas 1975 and my first ever album is "Night at the Opera" by Queen, and what a great start it was on my musical journey. Must have cost about £3 and I seem to remeber it coming from Woolworths on Queens Street in Cardiff, a shop long since gone. I posed and played air guitar to this for about 3 years before it inspired me (along with a few others) to pick up a guitar and try it all for real. Of course 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is the one everyone drools over, but seek out great tracks like 'I'm in Love with my Car', 'Sweet Lady' and the awesome 'Prophet's Song' which outranks its more famous counterpart in all respects. It still stands the test of time, not dated much, and funnily enough Muse's latest Cd contains enough trace elements of that Queen sound that if they were nuts would make it carry a health warning. However its not quite the same on cd as on vinyl, not sure why, I'm no audio geek, but this one only REALLY cuts it when is big and black!....I'm sure Freddie would agree!

Here's the Amazon review of Queen's magnum opus, cos I'm too tired to type any more:

" One of the most preposterous albums ever made, A Night at the Opera also remains one of the most popular. While it is difficult to completely dislike a record that successfully introduced the phrase "Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?" into the popular lexicon, it is harder still to understand quite what Queen were thinking of when they made this. Whether or not Queen were fully aware of their own absurdity remains a moot point. However, if one can find the hefty psychic hooks and pulleys necessary to suspend this much disbelief, A Night at the Opera is a perversely enjoyable record. The awesomely daft and supremely catchy "Bohemian Rhapsody" aside, it contains the almost equally risible excursions "The Prophet's Song" and "39", a couple of the irresistibly amusing headbanger numbers that Queen could write in their sleep ("Death On Two Legs") and the very possibly heartfelt pop ballad "You're My Best Friend". Immortally baffling, like the pyramids. Yet also enjoyably compelling."

And the artwork is brilliant too!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Terra Nova

Carrying on from the last but one post, I found this exceptional song and neat video by Leeds band iLiKETRAiNS (that's the way they like it written) : "Terra Nova"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Christmas posts #1

OK, so it's getting close, has been since August in Sainsbury's, yes its that old Christmas magic and its starting to cause a tingle in this old man's stomach. Starbucks has the eggnog latte's on the menu, and I've been tracking down my Christmas music cd's ready for the run up to the big prepared!!

I've got a few favourites, my "grown up" favourite I think has to be Tony Bennett's "Snowfall - The Christmas Album" which I bought first on vinyl the first time me and my wife to be spent bits of the Christmas holidays together, we had our very own turkey dinner in my old bedsit, before she had to go home to be with her mum for the big day. Close second comes Harry Connick Jr's "When My Heart Finds Christmas"

However I am without doubt that my all time favourite is Tijuana Christmas by the Torero Brass Band, the cheesiest and most seventies record you could imagine. I have it still on vinyl, and managed to get a digital copy via a very kind chap, whose website will be linked to here.

"Christmas is the most joyful festival of the Christian year, when we celebrate at the same time the turning point of the winter and the new hope that was brought to men with the birth of Jesus. Christmas is a time when we make up for the bleakness of the weather outside with the warmth of our spirits, and it is no coincidence that the songs which have come to be particularly associated with Christmas should be carols, which have always been the most cheerful and often the most secular of Christian songs. On this record you find your favourite carols in an unfamiliar guise--we've called the album 'Tijuana Christmas', but you will find the mariachi sound taking on a richer and more varied flavour as the Torero Band bring out the charms of our most beautiful carol tunes in imaginative brand new arrangements. 'The Holly and the Ivy' sets the pace with a bright, sparkling beat that even adds to the gaiety of one of our oldest and liveliest carols; 'Silent Night' a much more recent and a more devout carol, is given a quite contrasting treatment, slow and tender. 'Hark, the Herald Angels Sing' sets off again at a brisk, bouncy pace--and if you feel like dancing, why not? It may come as a surprise to you that our oldest carols used to be dances, and that the word itself described a form of circular dance.
In the preface to the Oxford book of carols you will find carols described as songs with a religious impulse that are simple, joyful, popular and modern. You'll never have heard them sounding more joyful, popular or modern than they do on this exciting and original L.P."

Why this one?...well its the one that figured most prominently in my childhood obviously. Mum and dad would put it on the old Phillips "stereogram" on christmas day as we opened the presents, so it was their christmas album too. Funnily enough my cousin also had a copy in his house, and they were really into it as well. It brings back the feeling of warmth that only childhood christmases can bring, lots of happy memories of a time when the family was a big deal, now we're all splintered over the country...indeed the world, its all a bit of a damp squib in the end, but then I guess that's what growing old is all about.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A hero

I have a few odd memories of a book which my dad had in his bookcase stirred recently by my reading Ranulph Fiennes' excellent "Captain Scott". I must check to see if he still has it. I am thinking it's "Scott's Last Expedition" the book of the diary from Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1911 -12 Antarctic trip to reach the South Pole. I remember it as having some amazing and quite chilling photo's in it of terribly frostbitten hands and the cairn that marked Scott's final resting place. It made a definite impression on me as a lad, going back to revisit the pictures over and over again with that morbid childhood interest that boys have (or is it just me??)

Now I'm a "grown up" and reading the story it is an astonishing, tragic yet immensely inspiring tale, one that has enraptured me for the last week. Project Gutenberg, an online library has a copy of Scott's diaries to download and read, I'm dipping into it as a means of highlighting the Fiennes book. I heartily recommend you take a look, and read in awe, the exploits of some of the most truly courageous men.

"March 29, 1912. We had fuel to make 2 cups of tea and food for 2 days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker...and the end cannot be far. For God's sake look after our people."