Wednesday, 20 March 2013

National Theatre: 'This House'

An excursion to the National Theatre  to see their production of 'This House' written by James Graham. The play concerns the shenanigans that took place during the UK Parliament between February 1974 and May 1979. Older readers may recall that Labour led a minority government followed by a majority of only three, and consequently had to make various deals in order to get its legislation passed. Eventually, they lost a vote of confidence and Thatcher won the subsequent General Election.
The play's central protagonists are the rival Whips and the action takes place in their offices, against a background of the House of Commons. A bit of clever staging is to seat some of the audience on stage as if they were the two sides of the House of Commons chamber. The script is very acutely observed, providing some hilarious caricatures of the politicians of the time, the Whips being portrayed sympathetically whilst the MPs they manipulate are the clowns and the butt of most of the jokes. There is a fair amount of world class cursing and insults, delivered in character, some of the best coming from a Tory MP referred to as 'The Colonel'. Meanwhile, a serious point is made about the absurdity of many aspects of the UK Parliamentary system and its procedures, and the harsh reality of political life.

The Diner

The Diner in Ganton Street. Now here's a place where the grub on your plate is what counts. Well, it would be if they used plates but they don't; they serve it in plastic baskets.  I am prepared to overlook this, however, as the 'Diablo Burger' was rather good, and the chilli cheese fries came with good chilli containing real meat, and with real cheese. The onion rings were just about perfect too. Have a look at the menu. Prompt and cheerful service, but we have to deduct half a point because the fries were prefabricated and another because the music was rubbish (American hard rock) and too loud. Recommended!

The Drunken Monkey

Stopped off for a bite to eat at The Drunken Monkey in trendy Shoreditch on our way to the Mehliana gig (see below).  This is definitely a place for 'hipsters' and yuppies - music too loud, bad acoustics, and indifferent service. The site of a former pub, and it's very draughty; they've tried to make it a combined cocktail bar and dim sum restaurant. You are warned on the menu that 'it is impossible to cook all of the dishes at the same time so we serve them when they are ready'. Yeah right; I wonder how all the other restaurants manage it? The result was that the food came to us in dribs and drabs and one of us didn't get his grub until the rest of us were half way through. The 'Mongolian Beef Hot Pot and Rice' I had was equally indifferent and somewhat watery, and the spring rolls were about half the size expected. However, the Chilli Salt Fried Squid was excellent and we were served promptly. I would have said it was reasonably priced if the food and service had been a better standard but it wasn't so I won't. Go to a regular Chinese restaurant if the actual food is your priority!

Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana: Mehliana

A works outing for members of the Xorg Collective and associates to The Village Underground in trendy Shoreditch to see Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana performing their (mostly) improvisational set as Mehliana. Spiffing!
Cognoscinti will be familiar with these guys as two of the most accomplished musicians around, each having played with a plethora of jazzers and others. I became aware of Mr Mehldau through his association with Pat Metheny, although I must have heard him as a sideman loads before that. And our Phil introduced Mr Guiliana to the Xorg consciousness through Heernt and Avishai Cohen. Any road up, these chaps are doing something quite different from all that with Mehliana. Firstly, just the sound of the keyboards - Mehldau was playing analogue instruments; a Wurlitzer electric piano, with Moog and Prophet synthesizers. Luscious, fruity sounds of their own rather than digital emulations. Guiliana played a proper drum kit, although he did have some weird bit of gadgetry with about twenty identical white buttons on it that did idon'tknowwhat.
Rather than me try to describe the music, here's a recording that some kind person has posted on YouTube of their concert in Antwerp a few days earlier (sound only, 1 hour 20 minutes)

As for the venue, it's a bit of a dump having been converted from some former industrial premises - bare brick walls, concrete floor, and the toilets are squalid. There's no sign outside so you have to deduce that you've found it, the assertive bouncers being the biggest clue.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Well Done, Sherlock! - Ministry of Defence

This is one statement of the bleedin' obvious that will go down in history as a classic. It's a shame that it relates to such a tragic and pointless loss of life and massive waste of resources. The Independent reports that the Ministry of Defence has determined that the war in Afghanistan is 'unwinnable'. Well, stripe me pink but I believe a number of us were saying that when Blair and Bush started it. It began as an exercise to root out Al Qaeeda's training camps, developed into removing the Taliban regime and eventually became a campaign to install a western-style democracy. But as enny fule no, it's not that easy to impose a system, that has taken 'The West' several hundred years to develop, on to a tribal  culture based on patronage, overnight. Or even to colonise the place. The Brits have been trying it for over 150 years...the Soviet Union tried and failed to impose a Stalinist regime...and I suspect The Taliban regime would eventually have fallen once the tribal warlords got their act together. So, it's Well Done Sherlock! to the strategic geniuses at the MoD.
You have to laugh or else you cry.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


There was an interesting juxtaposition of days last week when we had International Women's Day
on Wednesday 8 March, closely followed on Sunday 10 March by Mother's Day. The former highlights the economic, political and social achievements of women; since its beginning in the socialist movement, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration via the auspices of the United Nations.
On the other hand, Mother's Day is a commercialised celebration of motherhood and, in England at least, is associated with Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, when people traditionally visit their mother church. In contrast with International Women's Day, Mother's Day thus tends to reinforce gender stereotyping.
And this week we have seen 115 old men elect one of their number to be the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, at least half of whom will be women. Gender issues do not seem to have played any part in the old men's deliberations, however. Funny old world.

March 14 (3.14...)

Monday, 11 March 2013

D5 Mixing Desk: Chickenshed

The lad has a new mixing desk. To hear it being expertly operated, go the current show at the Chickenshed Theatre: Globaleyes 2013, running till Sunday 17 March. Tickets only £10!

Maxwell's Demons: Return of The Tangle Monster

They're back! Those evil mystery demons who make stuff happen for which there is no other explanation. This fiendish agglomeration of wires started out in nice orderly fashion only to meet their doom overnight at the hands of Maxwell's Demons...

Friday, 8 March 2013

John Scofield at Ronnie Scott's

Another works outing last Sunday, to see John Scofield's Organic Trio at Ronnie Scott's. Fantastic!
The line up was Mr Scofield on guitar, Larry Goldings on Hammond B3 organ and Greg Hutchinson on drums. In a departure from his usual practise, Mr Scofield was playing a Fender Telecaster whereas he is generally associated with the Ibanez AS200 semi-solid. Through a Vox AC30, with an assortment of FX pedals (see website).
I don't think I've ever seen a guitarist pull as many and such a variety of facial expressions as Scofield did while playing. It's as if he really is connected to the instrument - the feel and energy generated is marvellous. Scofield has been around for ages now and has played all sorts of jazz and fusion and he has a distinctive and immediately recognisable style - there's no one like him. So although this was a straightforward trio set up, the set list ranged far and wide from Joe Henderson songs to Carla Bley via Ray Charles and Billy Cobham. For an idea of what it sounded like, buy the album 'Saudades' by Trio Beyond which features Scofield and Goldings, but with Jack de Johnette on drums.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

HS2 v. Potholes

£33 billion over 20 years for a new 'High Speed' railway from London to various places oop north - an example of the Keynesian approach to capitalist economics which centres on a 'demand led' economy where the State intervenes to stimulate demand and thus growth. The greater good being the motive, rather than merely a profitable return on capital for a few individuals or corporation. But hold up! Weren't the railways privatised in 1996 and so doesn't this, in effect, amount to a £33 billion subsidy from the taxpayer to the private sector? Any profit from the venture will go the privatised railway companies. Moreover, the taxpayer - the public - will also have to pay to travel on the railway. I smell a rat.
The new railway will increase capacity as well as speed so that's good too as it is to be hoped it will stimulate investment around the UK and facilitate the movement of labour (but not for Romanians and Bulgarians, we assume). And the project will provide employment directly during construction which will be spread over twenty years so that's good. But will the contracts go to local companies i.e. UK taxpayers? Some of it, but the big bucks will go to multi-nationals who will no doubt find ways of moving their profits off-shore.
Meanwhile, there is an 11-year backlog of road repairs featuring every motorist's favourite gripe, the ubiquitous pothole. In 2012, local authorities paid out £22.8 million in compensation to motorists whose cars had been damaged as a result. The estimated cost for clearing the entire road maintenance backlog is £12.93 billion. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if instead of spending 20 years building a high-speed railway you were to spend £12.93 billion now on repairing the roads, you would reap the same Keynesian benefits in terms of stimulating the economy, but sooner. Plus you would save 20 years' worth of compensation awards (£456 million). It's anybody's guess whether the contractors might be local or, via some web of intrigue, registered in Albania for tax purposes, but that's another argument.
So, there you go, Mr Osborne, I just saved the taxpayer £20 billion smackers and cheered up a lot of motorists (although disappointing all those people who wanted to get to Manchester half an hour sooner).

Uncle Fester's House

For sale at $49 million American dollars: Uncle Fester's house as seen in Addams Family Values.

In Alpine, New Jersey. 12 bedrooms, an indoor basketball court, three kitchens and a ballroom. Stevie Wonder lives nearby.
Enquiries to Dennis at Sotheby's International.
No time-wasters please.