Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Into The Light

A couple of quick cultural recommendations for you, only one of which you will still be able to go to (though if you're quick you can still catch a recording of the other on Radio 3.). Both involved a trip to London's South Bank, the first last Tuesday on a mild, pale grey day which left me wondering if winter might be about to cease hostilities; the second three days later plunged back into deadening damp London leadness, and with more snow just around the corner.

 I know very little about classical music, having been put off by the fearful snobbery attached to it at my school - all those Pony Girls with their piano lessons and flute cases, not to mention the extraordinarily affected music teacher Miss Stonehouse, whose hair was like a cotton wool ball and who would pronounce words like 'arpeggio' in an exaggerated Italian accent. Feeling inadequate against such grandeur, I tended to give the whole genre a miss until relatively recently, when I've made a few cautious forays into the world, kind of going in backwards and trying some of the more modern stuff first. I found some things I quite like, too, though I doubt I'd ever be able to explain why I like them in sufficiently intellectual terms.

So it was that I rolled out for Steve Reich's 'Radio Rewrite' at the Festival Hall; Reich is one of the ones  I keep going back to as I've always found it easy to lose myself in his intricate, repetitive compositions and though I never completely embraced the bookish, fractious Radiohead I was lucky enough to see them in 1997 and surprised myself by being, as they say, blown away by the live experience. I could see how they might well have found one another in later life, especially knowing the two Radiohead songs - Everything in it's Right Place and Jigsaw Falling Into Place - that Reich had deconstructed and given his own treatment. Both are fairly angular songs that lend themselves to his approach, and though I wasn't mesmerised throughout either - they both seemed to wander off into some quite muddy patches at times - it certainly worked as a concept, with motifs and phrases from the core songs appearing, layering, fading, vanishing and reappearing. The two pianos and pair of vibes seemed to be battling it out furiously at times, which made for good watching, and there was huge excitement among the audience (over 80% of whom appeared to be wearing glasses. I've never seen so may bespectacled types in one space.). But the Radiohead pieces didn't quite hold up against the older, established work, especially Double Sextet, which delivered everything I'd wanted and took me off into 'the zone' very nicely.

I was very glad I went, and there was a huge amount of love in the room for Reich - you should have heard the intake of breath when he tripped climbing up on stage to receive his ovation at the end - but though these new numbers are all very well...sigh... they're just not as good as his old stuff. This, by the way, must be how David Gedge feels when people shout out for 'Kennedy' from the start of every gig. I wonder what Steve Reich would do to 'Kennedy'...

So, that was the aural treat and Friday's was the visual. If you hate the winter as much as I do, you must REALLY have hated this one - it's been cold, wet and at least a month too long now - and your pineal gland may be desperate for the stimulation of a little extra light. Cannily timely, the Hayward Gallery's Light Show should give you such a charge of illumination that unless you're in a really bad way, you'll come out feeling lifted and energised. The clue's in the title; all 25 exhibits, some tiny and intricate, but most of them large-scale and bold - take light and bend it, shape it, colour it, stretch it, and fire it back at you, so that your eyes' own rods and cones play an active role in bringing many of the pieces to life. Some are gentle and soothing, like Cerith Wynn Evans' pulsating light cylinders (which I saw mesmerise an entire room when they were used at the De La Warr pavilion last year in conjunction with a live dj doing an ambient set) and others are unsettling and disorientating, like the interconnecting rooms in different vivid colours, which play games with your perception as your eyes struggle to keep up and make sense of what you're seeing. My personal favourite was the last exhibit, which involves water and strobe lights (I won't say too much, you need to experience it) but there's something here for everyone - especially babies, it seems, who appear to be easily hypnotised when placed in front of a shifting light display. Even if you hate conceptual art, you'll almost certainly find something to interest you here - just don't over-think it, and let your eyes have a bit of a party. Everyone seemed to come out smiling, and you don't often see that on a miserable March day in London.

Just another two weeks till the clocks go forward. Just two.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Reich of Spring

Having got through most of the winter without succumbing to too many germs, last week saw illness reign at Kibber Towers, necessitating the last-minute sacking off of the long-awaited Damo Suzuki gig last Friday in favour of creeping sweatily off to bed (and not in a good way.) at 8pm. By Sunday a touch of cabin fever had set in, so we embarked on a little gentle countryside exploration around West Sussex, which is generally posher and more agricultural than its Easterly twin. It's always good fun to have a nosey around the mid-war Private Estates that dot the coastline, with their prim grids of bungalows and pervading air of unknowable eccentricity. I  love to imagine what goes on here, prompted by yet another sighting of a tended clump of pampas grass (the traditional method of signifying an interest in 'swinging') waving enticingly outside a pristine 'Little Orchard', or the incongruence of a battered 1971 Pontiac 455 with a bumper sticker saying 'South's Gonna Rise Again' (Confederate flag so presumably not meaning the Home Counties of England) parked on the driveway of a house called 'Bateman's' (which I assume to be a nod to Rudyard Kipling's old pile across the Weald in Burwash.). But not everyone in these parts is a wannabe poet - take a meander around genteel little Felpham, and you'll find yourself pootling past William Blake's house (William Blake! Sorry, but that excites me.).

It's worth detouring into Chichester just for the cathedral (though Pallant House gallery is always worth an afternoon if you have time), which has a memorial to Holst at which you can, if of an immature bent, do your own version the 'Gracelands' scene from Spinal Tap by sticking your finger in your ear and humming an out-of-tune version of 'Mars, The Bringer of War' (I got glared at by a verger.). Don't leave, though, without casting your eyes over the tomb of Richard Fitzallen and his second wife Eleanor, which inspired Philip Larkin to write his poem 'An Arundel Tomb'. It's an unusually tender carving for what were fairly brutal times in which marriage was usually no more than a business transaction, her body turned towards  him and his bare hand - the gauntlet removed for eternal skin-on-skin (or stone-on-stone, if you must) contact, clasping hers. Even the ferociously cynical Larkin was moved to curious exploration of the emotions implied here, while continuing as ever to declare himself consigned to the role of outsider-observer in such matters.

We headed home via Bognor Regis, the embodiment of the deflated and defeated Georgian seaside resort, the one which despite its best efforts never really attracted the glamourous patronage of the society miscreants who took their expensive naughtiness up the coast to Brighton. A reputation for genteel dullness has long since been superseded by a reputation for drug-related crime, poverty and relative squalor, and on a cold afternoon at the end of winter even the appearance of the low yellow sun couldn't enliven it much. Plus, there were posters around advertising a Clown Festival which was due to end that day, so I was especially keen to get out of town as quickly as possible fearing that we might get caught up in some terrible, feverish Clown Carnival as the participants threw off any remaining inhibitions and blocked the main drag with a full-scale, Bacchanalian Clown Orgy (I'm not joking about this. I was genuinely fearful about the possible onset of Clowns.).

We got home safely, feeling better, and happily didn't have to sack off our second hotly-anticpated gig of the week, the premiere of Steve Reich's Radiohead-inspired 'Radio Rewrite' at the Festival Hall on Tuesday night.

About which I shall say more later.