800 Not Out!… The event horizon of a brown hole… Who was Mulgrew Miller?… An American psychopath… Cue spooky music… GW: Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!… Would you like ice in that?

Guardian: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
On 26 February, 2012, the BogPo hit the ground running.

800 Not Out!

The Boglington Post, incorporating The Pumpkin, publishes its 800th Post today, 7 years and 5 months after its modest beginnings in February, 2012.

Founded by the late Sir Thanatossios Boglopoulos in competition with the absurdly named Arianna Stassinopoulos-Huffington’s Huffington Post, at a time when her writers were complaining of not being paid, early Posts were often short; even derisory. Pithy comments, bad jokes. Most consisted of just a single article; some humoresque, others autobiographical – often both.

But as the years went by, under the wise guidance of our new Publisher, Herr Professor Doktor Ernst von-und-zu Bogl, of Boglheim am Rhein, and the adroit editorship of his late father’s half-brother, the former children’s page editor, Uncle Bogler, The BogPo (as it was soon to be affectionately known) became broader – and bolder – in its concept, invoking a mission to provide quality writing, wild inaccuracies and profoundly cynical satire to the cognoscenti.

We have not been sparing in our use of adjectives.

Multiple articles, colored words and the inclusion of regular features – for instance, an obsessive interest in collecting evidence of climate change and the enticing prospect of human extinction began, in 2016, to manifest as the Granny Weatherwax diaries (GW standing also for Global Warming) – made it more like a regular news blog, only with cuss words.

The Thursday deadline soon became redundant as sheer boredom began to dictate a frenetic increase in output, while technical incompetence led to many editions like this one being published accidentally before time. We took a decision early on, not to hide our light under the bushel of a paywall, like the lousy bastards at the Washington Post, who could easily afford to go free. In any case, we couldn’t understand a word of the Patreon business model concept thing, and had no idea how else to force readers to send money.

Consequently, about twice a week you get 4,000 words for nothing. We hope you appreciate that, you stingy sods. (See me after. Ed.)

Following complaints from our persistent critic, Young Bogler, that no-one reads anymore, borrowed images were introduced, with what the Editor imagines are witty captions. Some amusing examples are revisited again in this edition. Thus, actual readers were no longer required. Just as well, as the average of daily Views, though climbing steadily, has yet to achieve critical mass (a high point of 47 was reached on one memorable day in October, 2016.) American spellings, too, were introduced, in case any Americans were watching; particularly, the NSA. (Hi, guyz!)

In passing, we should like to apologize to anyone who feels we may have stolen, overborrowed, overquoted or outright plagiarized their work for our researches. In fact, it seems it’s often a mutual process. Articles that appear in the BogPo/Pumpkin have a strange way of preceding, often by several days, well paid-for op-ed content generated by the soi-disant professionals in the mainstream press.

Visionary? Or merely doing our job! And, of course, as a non-profit claiming fair usage, we always give credit where credit is due. Sorry, Jacob – owing.

“I don’t give a fuck about the law, I want my fuckin’ money!”

Our sister site

In November 2016, The Pumpkin, now on its 92nd edition, became a separate entity focussing laserlike on the US political scene, following the accidental election of a senile, money-grubbing, malignant narcissist to the White House; a man who, while describing himself as a very smart and stable genius, has found it necessary to threaten to sue his old school if they release his grades to the media.

The possibilities for expressing weekly, in a newsy format, our fear and loathing of this spoilt, superannuated playboy – the Demander-in-Chief, as it were – the thin-skinned, sexually incontinent, mendacious, made-for-TV business mogul and his gang of lying, maladroit pirates, were too entertaining and concerning to ignore.

Readers have wondered why we are so interested in the US political scene from all the way over here in Boglington-on-Sea, a humdrum coastal resort in west Britain, where life goes on and the climate remains embarrassingly normal for a world on fire.

There are two reasons. One, your Uncle Bogler’s late granny was a US citizen, from Delaware; her family having migrated from Ireland in the late C19th. So we feel some attachment to the place – although we have never visited. My brother went over, and described the surviving family as, basically, trailer-trash.

And two, just you wait until Wilbur Ross’ little goblins have finished negotiating that post-Brexit trade deal with the incompetent buffoon and trainee serial killer, “Foreign Secretary” Dominic Raab. American spellings will be compulsory, we assure you. It’ll be daylight Raabery! (Sorry.)

As we know you all must be, dear Spammers, Followers, Likers and those no longer reading this, muh li’l bogl, we’re excited to be looking forward to the next 800 free issues.

Thank you for your loyal support.

Team Bogl (Your Uncle B.)

“You could drive a bus through these legs…!”

Newly appointed Secretary of State, Sajid Javid – the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver – tries on his new, reinforced Home Office trousers before continuing with Theresa May’s popular policy of creating a “Hostile Environment” for migrants (2017), accidentally interning and/or repatriating many people with a right to remain. Formerly a senior executive with Deutsche Bank, the bank fined over $16 billion for money-laundering and interest-rate rigging, the bank that lent $2 billion to Donald Trump despite his zero credit rating and history of defaults, “The Saj”was responsible for promoting the same “collateralized debt obligations”, the financial instruments that caused the 2007 banking crash. In July he was promoted by incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be Chancellor of the Exchequer.


The event horizon of a brown hole

“Democracy, here in the UK and in the US and Europe, has in recent years been subverted by vast amounts of dark money and by individuals and organisations intent on disregarding electoral law to the benefit of extreme rightwing ideas.”– Shadow minister, Chris Matheson MP.

Launching a new fundraising group mainly of Trump supporters (including Moron Jr) in New York calling itself World4Brexit, to “welcome Britain back to the international community, free of the EU”, Britain’s leading Euronoiac, Nigel Farage made it clear, the money was not to support Brexit candidates at the next General Election, which would of course be a breach of electoral law, but purely for research, to “dig deep, find out who is really running the show.”

Who is really running the show is, ultimately, the shadowy group of players around Vladimir Putin. Who else? What the “show” is, is you being a total arsehole, Nigel.

I’m sorry, but cogent political analysis and civil discourse break down at the event horizon of a brown hole.

“Pssst, wanna see my Mussolini?” (2017)

Jazz alert

Who was Mulgrew Miller?

Ciao, cool cats.

I’m forced to comment on a weird phenomenon.

Last night, 30 July, I was browsing on YouTube, looking for some lite jazz I could fall asleep to, and spotted the name of a familiar musician, the late virtuoso Danish bass player, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson – who co-nomenclaturally played a lot with the Oscar Peterson trio – no relation.

Sadly, NHØP, who was also a highly cultured man,  died in 2005 at the young age of 58, from heart disease, leaving a treasure trove of mouthwatering brilliance.

Truly one of the great bassists in jazz or indeed any music tradition, he was listed here among those little pictures down the side as playing on an album in a duet with a pianist called Mulgrew Miller, of whom, I swear, I had never heard.

Having listened to, and collected, jazz recordings for what – 15 years, including as a teenager and later intensively for the past ten years as an old bloke and wannabe performer, I honestly had never heard of Mulgrew Miller.

Not only that, but I swear Miller’s name does not come up once as listed either as a lead or side-man on any of the more than 400 jazz CDs I have collected over the past 10 years, dating back to the early 1940s and running on to the present day. The name sounds almost like a joke, a jazz musician out of a novel, or a disguise to fool the taxman.

And yet, having cropped up once, I’m now browsing through dozens of recordings by or featuring Mulgrew Miller, with growing admiration.

Is there some spiritual meaning to it?

I mean, it’s not a name you would easily forget. Also, he’s a bit of a genius, described in his Wikipedia entry as a sort of cross between Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner, although he’s very much his own man when it comes to style – virtuosic, powerful, delicate – but with a sense of humour and often a nod to the past.

It’s as if, from time to time in life, a wormhole opens up and however old you get, interesting things you knew nothing about before come wiggling through to take you completely by surprise.

(Mind you, it’s not long since I started to catch up to the wonderful Kenny Barron. I had at least heard of him.)

Miller was another of those tragically early casualties of the jazz world, dying of a stroke in 2015 at the ridiculous age of 57. Of course, you suspect a drug habit, but I doubt it. He had been Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey for several years. I suspect many more undersung jazz heroes are hiding away on the campuses of smalltown academic America. At least it pays.

These geniuses just pop in and out of parallel universes to enlighten and entertain us for a while before flitting back. Busy schedule. Many gigs.

(Incidentally, the reliable Japanese bassist Kyoshi Kitagara, who pops up on many of these recordings with Miller and Barron, is someone else I also discovered for the first time yesterday. Never come across him before either. How does this happen?)

Mulgrew Miller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aX39pJ9C3s&list=RDA1Nx_Bnpb5s&index=5

Kenny Barron: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGYvuu8Fwog

My Jazz CDs (catalog): themindbogls.wordpress.com/wp-admin/edit.php?s=my+jazz+CDs&post_status=all&post_type=page&action=-1&m=0&paged=1&action2=-1


An American psychopath

The New York Times tonight has a story to chill the blood. It’s about The Collector, Jeffrey Epstein. Ignore the bit about wealthy financier, he was a jerk, a pimp funded entirely by his influential pedophile clients:

“The wealthy financier, who has been charged with sex trafficking, told scientists and other acquaintances of his plans to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating scores of women at his sprawling New Mexico ranch.” (NYT briefing)

“Mr. Epstein” (the NYT uses the honorific even when horrifying scumbags are identified as certifiable lunatics), “who used his wealth to cultivate relationships with a wide range of business, political and scientific luminaries (no, idiots, it was the other way around! They used their wealth to cultivate him! Ed.), also claimed to be bankrolling efforts to identify ‘a mysterious particle that might trigger the feeling that someone is watching you.'”

Oh, yes, Jeffrey. We know the feeling.


Telepathy corner

Cue spooky music

Two spam messages have illiterally just arrived on top of a list of 13, that the WordPress Spammeister, Arkayla, thinks I might want to approve. Why would I? Absolute gibberish, they’ve all been sent through poxy servers from untidy bedrooms in Kyrgzystan and will only contaminate my cloud, whatever.

These two both purport to be commenting on an ancient Post from 2012, that I thought I had recently deleted, punningly titled: “Oh, what a Tanglewood we weave”. It was all about buying a guitar made by a company called Tanglewood; which I’d done by mistake.

Not half an hour ago on my walk with Hunzi, I encountered Andy, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to for the best part of a year. Andy runs a little guitar shop in the covered market. I’d placed a guitar with Andy to sell, about two years ago. He keeps selling it, only for no good reason, the buyers always return it.

We couldn’t really understand why. It’s a perfectly nice little instrument. Anyway, I asked him if he’d sold it, and probably out of guilt or sympathy he said he’d buy it off me, so I priced it very modestly at £50, he just happened to have £50 on him, and we parted ways rejoicing.

Oh, did I mention? It was the Tanglewood.


GW: Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!

Now, that’s better. There was almost no weather in yesterday’s edition, apart from perhaps a mention of two possible hurricanes in the Pacific, but now…

“Hurricane Erick is currently hurtling across the East Pacific Ocean towards Hawaii measuring winds of 132mph. At the last NOOA update, the powerful hurricane was located approximately 750 miles (1210 KM) east southeast of Hilo, Hawaii and around 965 miles (1550 KM) east southeast of Honolulu Hawaii. With wind speeds of 132mph, Erick is a category 4 hurricane, which according to the Saffir Simpson Wind Scale can be catastrophic (Express). Wunderground reports: “Erick’s top sustained winds jumped from 70 mph at 5 pm EDT Monday to 130 mph by 5 pm Tuesday, a spectacular leap that’s almost double the 35-mph-in-24-hours needed to qualify as rapid intensification.”

The report goes on to mention: “Tropical Storm Flossie is currently located 745 miles south of the southern tip of Baja California. It is currently moving at 20 miles per hour. On its current path, Flossie will enter Central Pacific waters on Friday or Saturday” and also threatens Hawaii. (Express) Wunderground reports, Flossie intensified to Cat 1 on Tuesday (30 July), but might not survive the wind shear in Erick’s wake.

Europe: Another wave of heat is on the cards, between intense rainstorms. “Forecasters say three more heatwaves could be on their way to the UK. Leon Brown, head of operations at The Weather Channel explained: ‘After the past week’s extreme heat, three more heatwaves are forecast in Britain this summer as air from Africa arrives.'” (Express) In the meantime, central and northern Europe and parts of Britain are being pounded by heavy thunderstorms.

Russia: A gentle nudge from your Gran has spurred the Floodlist team into reporting mainly as follows: “2,699 people in 8 districts of the Irkutsk region (Siberia) have been affected by (a) new wave of floods that started after heavy rains in the area. TASS says the water level in the Iya river in the region reached 11.25 metres on 31 July, well above the 7 metre danger mark. Flooding is also affecting the Amur region, where a state of emergency was declared on 25 July. Over 2,300 people have been evacuated. One of the worst hit areas is the city of Belogorsk and the surrounding district after flooding from the Tom River, a tributary of the Zeya.”

Meanwhile authorities have declared a state of emergency over wildfires in Siberia and the Far East. Almost 3 million hectares of land are estimated to have been affected, according to Russia’s Federal Forestry Agency. (Floodlist)

India: “7 people have died in Maharashtra in flood- and rain-related incidents, including drowning and collapsed buildings, since 27 July. As many as 166 people have now died in the state since the start of this year’s monsoon. A total of 55 villages are affected, with over 1,500 people evacuated.

“Meanwhile the death toll continues to rise in the NE states of Bihar and Assam. As of 30 July, DMD reported 127 fatalities in Bihar and 89 in Assam. As of 30 July there were over 650,000 people displaced in the two states. Elsewhere in the country, 26 people have died in Kerala and 13 in Rajasthan.” (Floodlist)

Boglington-on-Sea: Where normal is the new unusual…. I’m just putting a sweater on now, for the first time in weeks. It’s been struggling to reach 17C all day under gray skies, just like old times. The bonkers Express website is offering us a Grand Solar Minimum ice age for the next 30 years. That’ll see me out, then.

Residents of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, were told to leave their homes and make arrangements to stay with friends or family “for a number of days” after severe weather in recent days left the Toddbrook reservoir above the town badly damaged and dangerously full. (Guardian)

Flooding in Yorkshire after 3 inches of rain – a month’s worth – fell in 4 hours, 5-in over 24 hours, washing out roads and bridges. A landslip on 30 July blocked train tracks between Carlisle and Skipton, disrupting rail travel. (Floodlist)

Atlantic: Two systems are rivals to intensify later in the week, with the name Chantal next on the list. One is a disturbance dumping heavy rain in the area of Puerto Rico that could become a Tropical Storm threat to Florida if it doesn’t get stopped either by wind shear or the mountains of Hispaniola. The other is a disturbance that’s just come out of West Africa along the usual hurricane trail, heading for the Leeward Islands. (Accuweather)

Tunnel approaching….

Arctic: The record-setting heat wave has moved north over Greenland, triggering temperatures as much as 25 to 30 deg. F. (16.6 C) warmer than normal. Tuesday’s (30 July) temperature may have surpassed 75 F. in some regions. The heatwave is expected to peak on Thursday with the biggest single-day melt ever recorded in Greenland. On 1 August alone, more than 12 billion tons of water will find its way down to the ocean, irreversibly raising sea levels. (Guardian, citing Rolling Stone)

President Trump has offered President Putin help to bring Siberia’s four months of wildfires under control. Raking the Taiga, possibly?

Yellowstone: 7 times in June, 5 times in July…. Biggest in the park, the Steamboat geyser went off again yesterday, 30 July, well ahead of its record year in 2018. Harmonic tremors continuing. (Greeley, citing USGS) Much excitement however is occurring at California’s rival Long Valley supervolcano (the magma chambers of the two may be connected), where USGS appears to be conducting extra aerial surveys, there have been earthquake swarms and there’s been 32 inches of ground uplift.

Moonshine: A “Black Supermoon” will not be visible over the USA tonight, 1 August. It will not be visible again over the UK at the end of the month. I have no idea, look it up. It’s bound to be cloudy.


Would you like ice in that?

Between 17 September, 1989 and 17 September, 2012, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic almost exactly halved: from 6.9m sq km to 3.4m sq km.

17 September is generally reckoned to be the perigee of annual ice extent, after the summer melt. 2012’s was the lowest extent recorded since satellite measurement began in the late 1970s.

On 28 July this year, extent was at 6.5m sq km., leaving 52 days of melting to go. An extrapolation of the extent at the current rate of melting would leave no sea ice left by 17 September, 2019. (Arctic News, 30 July)

The Pumpkin – Issue 59: Is John Sopoor finally growing a pair?… Are we all going to die on 1 April next year? … GW: keeping us in the loop… Some birds never find the food… In praise of Kenny Wheeler.

“Non, non, absolument pas, je vous dis! Jamais! Sacre bleu! Zut alors! Completement impossible! C’est de la merde!! A quoi pensez-vous, monsieur l’idiot?” (etc., ad infinitum).
Britain’s new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab can hardly believe his luck as Barnier goes off on one over the Chequers white paper.


Is John Sopoor finally growing a pair?

The BBC’s hitherto uncritical Washington correspondent, John Sopel seems to be waking from the self-induced coma he has been in since the inauguration of the Tangerine Dream in January last year. Yes, he has noticed that the President tells the occasional lie.

Of the two he has spotted out of several thousand well-attested falsehoods, Supine refers to the frequently repeated boast where Trump tells his dumbfuck supporters he cleverly predicted Brexit on 22 June, 2016 – the day he arrived to play golf at his Turnberry course, the day before referendum day – when in established, verifiable fact he said nothing whatever about it until the 24th, the day AFTER the referendum.

Sopel finds it to be of interest that Trump then appointed an entire PR person to lie full-time about this somewhat confusing claim, out of all the many lies and rowing-backs of lies and doubling-down on lies and lying about lying, and sending putzes like Lyin’ Sarah Sanders and dim Sean Spicer out to explain what the president really meant, which was the opposite of whatever he was denying he ever said, only he never said it, so you better not print that he did, or else….

To the BogPo, whose mind is also wandering, it seems just like the kind of thing I’d do, if I had a free budget for paying people to tell the media what I wanted to say but didn’t have the intelligence to say it right the first time. But then, I predicted Brexit in May, 2013.

“Donald Trump was speaking at a rally in Kansas City. And he came out with a memorable phrase that sounded as though it had been lifted straight from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. He said: “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”
“Or it is. There is just a concerted – and sometimes it would seem – systematic effort to make you think otherwise. Forget alternative facts. This is rewriting history.” – Sopel/BBC, 25 July

There seems to be little concern here for what Trump also told his audience; another pile of tragically hopeful, disused, flag-shagging military veterans whom he would deign to scrape off his shoe:

“Don’t believe the crap you hear from the media. … many Democratic politicians are “disciples of a very low IQ person,” (Rep. Maxine Waters, a frequent Democratic critic of the President’s; also a black person with a military record who receives many death threats from Republicans pissed at her criticisms of their hero, and responds: You better be able to shoot straight….)

Following this repellent racist slur, the filthy, lying orange slug with an IQ below 90 went further, which is short for ‘Full Führer’, as Sopoor reports:

“He also falsely accused Democrats of being “OK” with crime in the US. “They want open borders, and crime’s OK,” Trump said. “We want strong borders and we want no crime.” – Sopel/BBC

This total fabrication linking immigration with crime is par for the course at Trump rallies, the Gargantuan lies, total misrepresentations of the truth, wild claims of persecution, whining pleas for sympathy and manipulative slurs repeated over and again against manufactured hate figures; the self-victimization of a narcissist with nothing to offer but his dreams of a moneyverse, where war veterans (if of South American origin) are deported for minor traffic violations, splitting up American families, to countries where they may never have lived.

Because: “We want strong borders and we want no crime.” Although he knows, the lousy fucker knows, the little pictures have been shown to him, that immigrants commit less crime than the natives and are themselves more likely to be the victims of crime. But he bangs on with his obsessive meme, the hysterical pleas for love and understanding, the constant whingeing about ‘Fake nooze’ and the great ‘Witch hunt’, Hillary’s emails…. his messianic demands to believe in only Trump and his version of the world growing louder as the midterms approach.

Christ, but he is one predictable, reprehensible, lying racist fuckwit.

Tragically, the dead cat bounce of the US economy since the disaster of 2008 is running away with itself, rapidly overheating, and the presidential ignoramus is taking all the credit, despite doing his damnedest to destroy it with his insane tariff wars aimed at reversing non-existent trade gaps in his imagination.

Nevertheless the short-term gains may see him back over the line in 2020.

God help us.


Dark he was, and swivel-eyed… Dominic Raab describes a tasty British mangel-wurzel to the Commons, 25 July.

“Anyone knowing the very basics of food production … would know just how difficult it would be for industry to stockpile food.”

Are we all going to die on 1 April next year?

“With their comments – presumably meant to assure us that they have a plan, or at least a clue – May and her ministers have shown us instead how woefully under-prepared we are. Brexit is perhaps the most complex thing the UK has attempted in the lifetime of most of us, and it is being run by people who don’t understand the absolute basics.”

The quotes above are taken from a scathing article in The Guardian (26 July) by former special projects editor, James Ball, evaluating the reassuring claims made by the government that we shan’t run out of food if we exit the EU at midnight on 29 March, 2019 without a Customs deal, because we’re fully prepared for anything to happen.

Far from it being another example of “Project Fear”, the slur thrown at the Remain campaign during the run-up to the referendum, Project Reassurance – “We don’t know what we’re talking about but if the worst does come to the worst, there’s no Customs deal and the refrigerated lorries grind to a 17-mile halt tailing back from Calais you can queue for the basic ration at your local army barracks” – is coming from the new Brexit secretary, the swivel-eyed Eurosceptic, Dominic Raab.

If even he thinks it’s all going to be a dystopian nightmare, this rabid Brexiteer plotter and would-be privatizer of the Welfare State, this Tory CUNT (Conservative and Unionist Neo-Thatcherite) par excellence, calmly planning for the breakdown of civilization that he and his money-breathing co-conspirators have been hoping for, then it’s time to panic.

Because they’re all away now for six weeks’ holiday, maybe for the last time as free-dwelling Europeans visiting their agreeable second homes in Tuscany, which all good Remainers fervently hope the Italian authorities will immediately confiscate, so nothing gets done as the clock ticks loudly down to midnight.

Shortages of food and food ingredients are far from the only terrors No Deal holds. Michael Ryan, eponymous boss of the popular no-frills airline (you tell ’em! Ed.), seems pretty convinced his planes will fall from the sky – at least, they won’t be able to overfly or refuel in Britain as the deal with the EU ensuring Open Skies will instantly collapse.

Likewise, our membership of the medicines agency that licences drugs for use all over the EU will automatically lapse and hospitals will run dry as the winter ‘flu cases die by the score, coughing blood and moaning gently on their gurneys in the car park.

At that point, Ball writes, the government anticipates that “industry” will rush to save us with all the food they’ve been stockpiling – except, this isn’t Mesopotamia, 3500 BC. There are no “grain stores” held in stone jars against a washed-out summer, everything nowadays is shipped around Europe or flown in from Chile on a “just in time” delivery schedule giving producers and supermarkets about a day’s grace before production and distribution grind to a halt. Nobody stockpiles food.

And, he argues, neither Raab nor May has any kind of a clue about how the food business works, accounting for their absurd overoptimism. What happens, he asks, if the industry has to gear up at much unwanted expense to meet the challenge, leasing huge amounts of refrigerated warehouse space, hiring staff, and May does a last-minute deal to let the lorries in?

And what nobody seems to be taking much notice of, so gorgeous is the weather in what well may be all of our last summers, is that if it doesn’t produce the right kind of rain, and soon, all across Europe from the polytunnels of Alicante to the unending steppes of Russia, we’re not going to have enough food for all of us anyway, the supermarket shelves will rapidly empty, the doors will close, Christmas will be cancelled and the riots and looting begin.

Stockpiling what?

So that’s another alarm clock that’s ticking loudly while the little Raabs bury their fanatical dad up to his blue-blooded chin in sand and the ice-cream of Eternity drips melted strawberry flavoring on the sandal of international ridicule.

Ho hum, vodka and tonic, I think, slice of lime, and it’s back to the garden for your old Uncle B.


Carr fire: Redding, Ca. this morning, 27 July. “President Trump has not commented on the fires.” (Guardian). No, well. No votes in California.

GW: keeping us in the loop

Dr Jeff Masters of the now-hopelessly dysfunctional and sensationalist Weather Channel website, that used to be an erudite forum called Wunderground, or Weather Underground, has a scholarly essay today on a possibly dangerous situation developing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Parts of the Gulf are showing sea surface temperatures about 1C above normal, creating a breeding ground for hurricanes at the peak part of the season, where no proper hurricanes have yet formed since early June owing to unfavorable wind conditions at altitude. That’s now changing.

The key is apparently that the temperature anomaly at the surface needs to extend down about 100 meters to create a sufficient reserve of energy. Meanwhile, scientists are looking to the behaviour of the Loop Current, a feature that pushes this warm water around (and kicks off the Gulf Stream at its southern end), making its energy available to the right kind of cyclones, and which has recently split in two.

The conditions are now approaching those that in the recent past have spawned the most powerful, Cat 5 hurricanes in the Gulf. If I may quote Dr Masters:

“When a Loop Current eddy breaks off in the Gulf of Mexico at the height of the hurricane season, it can lead to a dangerous situation where a vast reservoir of energy is available to any hurricane that might cross over. This occurred in 2005, when a Loop Current eddy separated in July, just before Hurricane Katrina passed over and “bombed” into a Category 5 hurricane. The eddy remained in the Gulf and slowly drifted westward during September. Hurricane Rita passed over the same Loop Current eddy three weeks after Katrina, and also explosively deepened to a Category 5 storm.”


The hurricane season continues into September.

Meanwhile, across the western Pacific two more storm systems are strengthening into typhoons, of which there have been quite a few this year: Tropical Storms Jongdari and Wukong. Weather Channel reports: “Jongdari is strengthening in the western Pacific (winds now 75 mph) and may take an unusual path toward mainland Japan this weekend”, making landfall as a Cat 1, to add to the miseries of Japan’s devastating storms and heat this past month.

Wukong seems to be headed for northern China/Kamchatka as an outlier on a larger rotation in the north Pacific.

Jongdari latest: to hit Nagoya prefecture near Tokyo tonight, 28 July as a Cat 1, with forecast 15 inches of rain over the next 24 hours.

Greece: after the terrible fires that claimed more than 80 lives in areas around the capital, Athens; including the devastated holiday resort of Mati – 40 are still missing – comes a warning of severe thunderstorms for the weekend, and probable floods.

Arctic circle: “Description: Potential disruption due to extreme high temperatures from 5PM EEST THU until 12:59AM EEST FRI. Cities affected: Ahvenniemi, Aikkila, Juuma, Finland.” (MeteoAlarm). The northern Scandinavian heatwave continues unabated, with many wildfires still raging. Scientists are watching with alarm as shallower, warmer waters around the Arctic ocean are once again pluming methane. A 50- gigatonne “burp” is a theoretical possibility, that would send temperatures around the planet soaring uncontrollably “within minutes”.

USA: “Numerous tropical downpours since the weekend have caused major flash flooding in parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where water rescues were reported and a disaster emergency was declared in at least one Pennsylvania town. Parts of the interior mid-Atlantic have been swamped with over a foot of rain.” (Weather Channel) Heatstricken California is threatened with heavy storms.

28 July: A fast-moving wildfire, the Carr Fire, is burning through the suburbs of the city of Redding (pop. 90k) in northern California. 2 dead, 9 missing, 48 thousand acres destroyed, many homes, and only 3% controlled. Temperatures in the region exceeding 42C, 100F day-to-day with strong winds forecast to last another week. 1.3 million acres – 89 fires – are burning in the western US. (reporting: The Guardian and others)

UK: Heatwave broken by powerful thunderstorms in the south. Didn’t fulfil predictions of a record 38.5 C anywhere, only 36C in Norfolk on Thursday, now there’s a forecast for those east coast US storms spiralling across the north Atlantic to hit us after Sunday, it looks like the long drought may be coming to an end. Not before farmers in many sectors report 30-50% losses. Food prices already rising.


Some birds never find the food

My nice new next-door neighbour owns a little wiggly dog of uncertain provenance: long, low, mostly gray, shaggy-coated and pug-faced,  looking like a cross between a pekingese and a stoat.

She’s quite a sweet little dog if you’re okay with the ingratiating type that rolls over to have its tummy tickled by a complete stranger. I’m not, but – neighbours – I do my best to smile and say, what a sweet little doggy. There, there. Oh, you want more? Thinking: I’m real glad of Hunzi, a proper dog.

Our tiny front gardens share a path and are open at the side, so when Ayshea – that’s the neighbour – lazily chucks the little dog out the front door – they have no back garden – Lola – that’s the little dog – is free to come into my garden and snaffle the food I started putting out for the birds two weeks ago, along with a bowl of water for the freakish hot weather we’ve been having.

Starting with a flock of half a dozen sparrows, birds were very quickly attracted to my little pop-up cafe under the uncontrollably spreading umbrella of the Photinia. Soon larger birds arrived, a pair of blackbirds, two collared doves, each requiring its own special menu.

As demand soared, twice a day I was cooking up a batch of seeds pelleted in suet, special wild bird mixture, dried mealworms and heels of bread that I chopped up into big crumbs, often sacrificing my breakfast in the process, as the supermarket has always just sold out of plain hand-stretched ciabbata loaves, the only kind I like, no matter what time I get there, leaving an unsold pile all day of other, specialized ciabbata loaves adulterated with olives or sun-dried tomatoes and cheese.

I ask the bakers why they think normal people would want to eat bread impregnated with olives when they could buy good, plain bread and some olives in a jar, or sun-dried tomatoes and a block of cheddar, and put them together if they really wanted bread with olives, or cheese and tomato flavor, and there’s no real answer: it’s the store policy.

There are few nastier things to taste than bread and apricot marmalade with olives in it, I’m sure you agree. Especially when you have my eyesight and have bought bread with olives by mistake. The labels are hand-printed and not always clear to read.

Anyway, there was little Lola, snaffling the birdfood that I was scattering on the ground, especially the crumbs of what would have been my breakfast, and I called her a little monster, affectionately as I hoped, but I fear Ayshea may have overheard through the open window, because she called the dog in and shut the door, and a certain froideur seems to have descended between us.

So I jumped in the car and drove to Charlie’s hardware emporium and bought a bird table tall enough to frustrate the dog with her little stoaty legs; set it out in the garden, poured an extra helping of bird food in the tray and sat back in the window to watch what the birds would do.

Three days later, and most of the original food is still mouldering on the table far above their anxious, darting heads, while the bewildered birds wander about the garden, pecking hopefully at the bare ground where sustenance used to be found. Only the pigeons seem smart enough to have worked out where the food now is.

The words “gutter” and “stars” flash through my head, and I draw a life-lesson from them.

Always look up, even if you have just pissed your pants in Morrison’s car park, trying to buy bread.


Jazz alert

In praise of… Kenny Wheeler

A brief footnote, you know how you get into the groove of ultimate satisfaction thinking, yes, that’s the last car I’ll ever want or need to buy, no more houses for me, I’m fine living here, abroad is the same everywhere so why travel? I can’t be bothered reading fiction anymore, life’s too short, etcetera?

So I’m in a space where, with around 400 recordings ranging from Miles Davis to Alice Coltrane, I no longer want to hear any jazz music that doesn’t feature the following personnel: Dave Holland on bass, Jack de Johnette on drums, John Taylor (or Keith Jarrett) on piano, featuring Norma Winstone on vocals, maybe Chris Potter on tenor – and Kenny Wheeler, the late, great Canadian flugelhorn player, who was like an erratic angel broadcasting from another realm.

No trumpet player in jazz history has ever sounded like Kenny, who also wrote most of his own stuff. I can only suggest to the novitiate that you may consider he produces the plangent yet triumphal tone reminiscent of a prodigious 13-year-old soloist under the wing of a respected old conductor secretly dying from emphysema; a bright, hopeful boy or girl who will one day move to the big city, for now brilliantly channeling Elgar Howarth in the front row of the ageing silver-band of a doomed mining community somewhere in the north, hoping against hope to win just one final competition – and they do!

You know what that sound is, I’m sure.

I would die happy if someone could just keep this divine music coming. But Kenny must have been one of the most under-recorded musical geniuses of the jazz-ignorant 1980s.

Sadly, having had to buy a new laptop after I killed the old one in a fit of frustration with its habit of flinging my carefully composed texts out of the Window for no reason I could discover, some invisible keyboard shortcut I kept triggering by accident as my three fingers flew over the worn-out keys, I no longer know how to transfer from CD to music folders, so that I can carry Kenny and the others around with me wherever I go.

With the old computer it was automatic, but for some reason Media Player works differently on this machine. I just managed to transfer one folder across before the old one died, and can’t anyway now remember how I did it.

The old laptop had a DVD tray, transferring music was easy, you slid the CD in and Media Player would obligingly pull up the track list and ask if you wanted to rip it? Whereas this new miracle of slimline technology – “In Search of Incredible”, indeed – obliges you to find some extra outside source and my brand-new Teac CD player infuriatingly has no line-out function other than to the speakers.

My son thinks I’m insane. Just sign up for Prime, or a Spotify account, Dad! Only £9.99 a month, unlimited music and you can make your own playlists! I sniff suspiciously. But they won’t have the more obscure stuff I like! Try me. So he goes online to his phone for about 15 seconds and sure enough, they even have Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, the El Daoud album I bought a week or so ago. So I really have no excuse not to cancel my charity subscriptions and get online, except I don’t trust any of those fuckers not to sell me to the highest bidder; to report my odd taste in music to the Security services.

So as my Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone collection of CDs exponentially grows in relation to the shrinkage of my small savings, and my limited shelf space fills up until the CDs are stacked on the floor, it stays on disk while I glare frustratedly at this power-packed new laptop, thin as a silver biscuit and about as useful.


Each man kills the thing he loves

(First piece: Jazz alert)

I weep with joy.

Well, actually I don’t. I’m weeping because my optician tells me I have ‘dry eye’ and should drink more water. Yes, wine and coffee contain water, but both are diuretics and I am robbing my eyes of much-needed lubrication while pissing frequently in the garden.

The rest of the time I can’t see where I’m going.

I was proposing to go along with this diagnosis until, while I was signing up to another £300 pair of specs I probably won’t ever wear, I overheard him say exactly the same thing to the next customer as she was leaving. There’s a lot of it about.

No, why I am particularly emotional ce soir is because I have fortuitously stumbled across a video recording of one of the great jazz concerts, Chet Baker Live in Tokyo, 1987.

A year later, he would be dead.

I hadn’t found it before. You might pay $300 for an audio CD, outrageous as you can also pay £45, which I did, throwing caution to the winds and buying a version without sexy graphics, only to discover it on YouTube, not just as an audio download but as a living, breathing video recording.

Internet, or what? And where the hell do these people get this stuff? Thank God they do.

A trip to the Amazon produces that it is only available as an NTSC DVD  (Never Twice the Same Color). We poor boobies in Europe with our higher technical PAL standard can only be allowed to watch in lousy American technical quality. Never mind, YouTube is our friend!

Joy, especially as within minutes of acquiring it two years ago, the outrageously expensive Live in Tokyo audio CD I bought was already buggered, the great track – Elvis Costello and Marianne McPartland’s ‘Almost Blue’ – had become unplayable and wouldn’t even upload to my laptop media player.

Arborway. Surely one of the great West Coast anthems of the jazz era. That’s if any musclebound, blond-rinsed skateboarder on the West Coast appreciated jazz, fuckin’ Beach Boys, Jan ‘n’ Dean fanatics. It’s just a bit of water, get real.

Probably because he was white, and recorded a lot of slushy commercial stuff, on which he often sang in a high-pitched  girlie voice attractive to the ladies, former choirboy (!) Baker remains arguably one of the most under-regarded jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s; although he has many fans. To my ear, he was a better technical trumpet player than Miles Davis; although far less influential.

He dropped in and out of the scene over the years,  sometimes in gaol, and then after losing his all-important front teeth in what he said was an intimidatory attack by a drug pusher and friends, to whom he owed money. (One of his many wives is on record that he only fell downstairs while leaving a club.) And here, live in Tokyo, is the visual as well as the aural evidence of how months of retraining enabled him to play through uncertain dentures; although his singing voice is wavery and his recollection of lyrics suspect.

What made Chet such a great jazz musician?

  • Two spells of duty in an army band gave him impeccable rhythm (he could read music but didn’t know chord theory)
  • Time spent jamming with Charlie Parker, and Gerry Mulligan’s quartet
  • Huge chick-pulling ability
  • Industrial quantities of heroin
  • Immense ‘cool’
  • A mysterious death.

Baker died, falling from a second-storey window at 3 a.m. in a hotel in Amsterdam. Impressed by the quantity of heroin and cocaine in his blood, also found in the room, despite dark rumours the coroner wisely recorded a verdict of accidental death.


Each man kills the thing he loves

The famous refrain from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol echoes in my failing mind. I am a murderer.

I don’t think I’ve been this desolate, almost suicidal, for a long while. Poor Cadi, my beautiful little avocado tree, is dead.

I killed her with neglect.

I am so self-obsessed and thoughtless and crapulous, it hurts.

There was a need, you see, to remove her from the living-room windowsill to a place of safety while I was redecorating. So I carefully chose a quiet upstairs window, in my bedroom. Behind a curtain I seldom, if ever, bother to draw, as I use the room to sleep in mostly.

Every two or three days I would give her a glass of water. Eighteen months it had taken to germinate the avocado stone, before it split open and a little root began growing down into the slimy green, nutritious depths of the crab-paste jar. A few more weeks went by, and then a questing shoot emerged from the top into the light, putting out tiny leaves.

My little tree was born!

For a year she grew, putting out leaf after beautiful, big leaf, until she was over a foot tall, taller, filtering the sunlight exquisitely through her pale-green lanceolate foliage. I loved very much to watch her. And then at Easter I had to go away for a few days. I made sure to give her an extra watering beforehand.

And after I got back, as I busied myself with creating small pockets of beauty around my little house, wrestling with all the complex organisational problems of flooring and tiling, electrics and carpentry, the financial and quantity calculations, the frequent trips to B&Q for more of this and that, the idiotic emails I drunkenly sent to suppliers when I stupidly couldn’t work out how to switch the damn thing on – I completely forgot she was there.

Death by drought must be deeply painful, leaves crinkling up, your cells gasping for water, the intensifying Spring sunlight now your enemy, struggling to transpire, your systems closing down to try to conserve what moisture remains, until there is none left. Help never comes. Hope gradually dies.

Three weeks went by, until one morning I remembered I had forgotten lately to water another plant, my late friend Lou’s Money tree that I never had the chance to return to her. Semi-succulent, Money trees (Crassula ovata) can survive for months without water. But avocados can’t. Watering Lou’s little tree, that I almost killed two years ago leaving it out on the terrace to be bitten by an unexpected early frost, I suddenly remembered – Cadi!

I raced upstairs, frantically filling and refilling my toothbrush-glass and pouring draught after draught of water into her dried-out compost, too late. For several days I hoped for a revival, as her little crown still showed signs of vitality though her lower leaves drooped and rustled like paper and slowly turned brown. And then even the crown shrivelled up, and she was gone.

You cannot conceive, dear Spammers, Followers, Likers and others, the depth of my self-repugnance when things like this are let happen. I have hated myself since childhood, useless, baboon-shaped, organisationally-challenged incompetent that I am. Friendships, relationships, family, jobs, houses, cars, money – the endless jetsam of stuff and people I have lost or broken or carelessly thrown away extends bobbing like empty bottles to the horizon as I continue even into my late 60s to crash through this one-and-only life like a blind rhinoceros on a bender.

And each man kills the thing he loves… Especially himself.

I am so, so sorry.


Sofa, so good

So, I’ve finally ordered a sofa. A red one.

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, a red sofa. Bright red; poppy red. And two red cushions with ’60s deco-ish, big white buttons.

I’ve been redecorating: neutral greys and beiges, a natural timber floor – punctuated by sudden violent outbursts of red. One more, a red sofa, could be a statement too far, I don’t know.

Red isn’t even a colour I particularly like. It’s just the vibrant immediacy of it, reflecting my bursts of anger at all sorts of things that annoy me these days; plus the fact that I’m not very good with colourways. I’ve noticed, too, that opportunistic panels of red seem to be in vogue with the BBC News set designers.

So that’s what I’ve done. It’s always best to do something, whatever it is.

Anyway, it was about three years ago that the couple came to look at my little house, that is still on the market and nobody comes to look anymore. And clustered in the sitting-room, the woman asked me suspiciously, where is my sofa?

Having a sofa is apparently de rigueur nowadays. I blame the sofa shops, with their intensive promotional TV advertising campaigns over Xmas and Bank Holidays, everything priced at ‘ninety-nine, ninety-nine’ and pay nothing for four years (until you throw it away still owing them £999.99 and recklessly order another one. It’s how they get you, people!)

I’ve paid for mine.

The implied criticism of my sad, sociopathic lifestyle has lived with me ever since.

Not wanting to admit that I didn’t have a sofa only because you couldn’t force it through my extra-narrow front door and turn it in the extra-narrow hallway to prise it into the sitting-room – it took me half an hour just to get my armchair in, and ripped the wallpaper (I had to run round the back of the house, climb over a wall and through the garden to get to the other end of the chair after it got stuck) – I made up some humoresque rejoinder about having only one bottom to sit on.

And if you think about it, what is the gain from having two seats side-by-side – cheek by jowl, as it were – next to each other like that? Unless you have a lot of visitors all at once or you are very good friends, only one person is ever going to sit on it at any one time. So an armchair plus my swivelling old leather Eames chair just in case is a perfectly adequate solution as far as I’m concerned. Anything more is a waste.

Anyway, the woman’s wounding remark finally got to me and on Friday night while mildly drunk, I ordered a cheap red sofa from Argos, that with its removable Ercol-style legs removed, just might fit through the door with a couple of experienced delivery blokes to hand – a “push-me-pull-you” crew.

And now I’m looking around the tiny room, its gorgeous new red-tiled fireplace that I created last week, its crimson rug (“Handmade in India, 100% Acrylic”), imagining it with a poppy-red sofa along one wall (not due for delivery until the 26th), and into my mind unbidden pops another judgmental (and extra-expensive) thought (‘sofa woman’ is now firmly embedded in my nexus of self-inflicted guilt-trips):

Where’s the coffee table, then?


Sterile instruments

The in-or-out EU debate that will profoundly affect British history and fortunes for the next seventy years has become stultifyingly boring, bogged down in specious economic arguments and tit-for-tat mudslinging.

It’s as if Prime Minister’s Questions has spilled over into the streets in a tide of beige puke.

I can’t listen to it.

This morning the Chancellor Mr Osborne released a report compiled at vast length and in painstaking detail by Treasury researchers, suggesting we’ll all be 6% worse off – £4.5k a year – after we leave.

The report was immediately ‘balanced’ by Mr Gove, the Justice Secretary (notice, no Economics portfolio) countering that it was all rubbish – just typical scare tactics from the Remain campaign.

Good to see he’s taken the time, done his own research and knows what he’s talking about.

Little wanker.





Oh, it’s a Jolly Solitary Holiday with Itinerary

“Take a solitary holiday to a place that has always fascinated you. Being able to plan your own itinerary will be lots of fun. You’ll be able to shop, eat and tour where you like.” – Yahoo! Horoscope

That’s just what I’m afraid of… missing my onward connection in Paris thanks to foreseen delays on the Eurostar service. (Outside the rain is lashing down and, having drunk this evening’s wine yesterday, I have nothing to do but sit and worry about this.)

I may very well end up solitary, lost and wandering; shopping, eating and touring, hither and yon, where I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing and the authorities will pick me up and commit me to some French hospital for the terminally bewildered and confusingly Anglophone (I’ve forgotten all my hard-learned French. I’m hoping it will come back when I arrive on French soil, but the signs aren’t promising: I spent a long part of my walk with Hunzi this morning trying to remember the English word ‘ragwort’…).

Happily I’ve taken out travel insurance, for the first time in my life. It’s because the last time I made the same journey, I mislaid my return ticket and was obliged by the SNCF railway lady to purchase a new one, at full price for a single outward journey (the return part is always cheaper) with the last dribble of cash I had in my account. Then Eurostar refused to refund my money, all the more galling as when I unpacked, I found my original ticket was where I had put it for safekeeping, in the front pocket of my travel bag.

I think you’re beginning to get the picture. No, I don’t travel well nowadays, it’s why I haven’t dared go anywhere for three years.

Be that as it may, I can assure the renowned prognosticator, Mr Russell Grant, that planning an itinerary is absolutely not fun. Where does he get these ideas? Have you ever tried it?

I spent the best part of three weeks last April online every evening to Mr Google and many others,  trying to figure out the best, the cheapest, the simplest way to get to a certain place at a certain time, involving some jazz, obviously, arriving where and precisely when I am expected next weekend.

I looked at possibly driving there, taking Hunzi for company – he has his own passport. But after I added the cost of fuel both ways, an overnight stop somewhere near Le Havre, to the ridiculous cost of taking the car on a Brittany ferry at this time of year, complete with compulsory extra seat-booking fee, given that I have a 600-mile round-trip from here to the south coast ferry port and back to throw into the equation; and there are two huge hell-hounds at the destination, lazing around in the sun, who would eat li’l Hunzi for breakfast, it was out of the question.

Besides, I am a rotten self-navigator, I tend to miss the turnings and waste hours driving miles in the wrong direction, trying to find a place to turn round.  SatNav? Surely, you jest.

I looked at flying, but discovered that the only flights to the tiny regional airport go from cities a hundred miles away at ungodly hours of the morning. It wasn’t thus the last time I flew to this place, pleasantly arriving mid-morning: someone has changed the horaire.

The air fares were affordable, although I find it somewhat bizarre that if you fly with a bucket-airline you whizz straight to your destination, or at least within 50 miles of it, in under an hour and a quarter, for about £250 return; whereas if you fly Lufthansa it’s a 24-hour marathon with three stops en route, three more opportunities to burst a tyre on landing, that costs over twelve hundred pounds. Those Germans, eh?.

Then, several reasons not to fly occurred to me.

One, I hate flying, much as I also avoid bungee jumping and road-bike racing on the Isle of Man.

Two, my most recent GF (who is no longer my GF but is a lecturer on global warming) was most exercised about my carbon footprint.

Three, I wanted to take a guitar with me and those lovely people at Ryanair want £50 extra each way to have it smashed-up in the hold; or a second £250 return fare to book a spare seat for the instrument, which seemed a) expensive, and b) rather antisocial at this time of year, as I expect they have little trouble packing the planes twice over with ordinary humans and their sprogs, who need to get to the same holiday destination.

Four, the nearest airport where I could find a flight with an unbooked seat and where the check-in time was not five a.m. is four hours away; plus, of course, the cost of parking my car there for a week, and the possibility of losing the carpark check and not being able to find the car again, loomed large.

So I blew out the flying idea, and that’s been my undoing, because I don’t now have a guitar I can take with me anyway!

I’ve had to decide not to take one, because having bought quite an expensive one from a shop in Germany I’ve had to send it back with an electrical fault. So I could have flown, but instead ended up with the third option, that of travelling – with minimal consequences for the future of the planet – by several trains: a journey lasting, provided I can make my dash across Paris and connection with the onward service on time, two days.

You see, you have to make all those decisions three months in advance, because otherwise the bookings for this time of year, Peak Broil, rapidly fill-up and you can’t go anyway; which is another attractive option I have been considering, for two reasons.

One, I can’t find a reliable-sounding person to stay in my house and look after li’l Hunzi while I’m gone. It’s a 24/7 position with no wages, although you get to sleep for a lot of that time and the contents of the fridge are at your disposal. I’ve been offered an agency sitter, but she’s an extra £350 on top of all the rest of the enormous costs involved in spending a week away, learning to do something I am never seriously going to do.

Otherwise, I’ve gathered an assorted rabble of lovely friends who can do a bit here and there, and I’ve offered to pay expenses. But it’s not ideal; I know I shall worry, my mind will not be concentrating on the music.

Two, there’s been a bit of bother at the French end of the Channel tunnel.

Industrial inaction, of the kind only the bolshy French labour unions know how to unleash on the public in the most disruptive ways imaginable. Something about Eurotunnel deciding they don’t want, or being told by the EU competition commission not, to operate ferry services as well as their unreliable tunnel, selling the ships and sacking all the crew members. I’d probably come out on strike myself, to be honest, it’s a mite hypocritical to say so, but they are bastards, fucking with hardworking people’s fun itineraries.

Then, there are five thousand desperate migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and points south, milling around Calais, occasionally rushing the tunnel entrance, causing delays to the trains – hoping to walk, swim or hitch a ride to the land of milk and coco-pops: Britain, where they’ve been hearing all their lives that there are jobs galore and free apartments and gold bullion lining the gutters, and opportunities to go in the Big Brother house, being dished out in ecstatic welcome to all who come.

(And where they obviously haven’t heard already exists a blue-bottomed tribe of rancorous, immigrant-hating denizens of Sofaville,  led by the Home Secretary, a lady who more closely resembles the Wicked Witch of the North than Mother Theresa; and by the uncompromisingly awful editor of the Daily Mail, Mr Darth ‘Dark-side’ Dacre. Ils ne passeront pas, as someone French once said.)

These two factors are conspiring to make planning my itinerary a lot less fun. The TGV trains leaving Paris will be packed with holidaymakers, it’s August, dammit, when they all flock to the coast. So the chances of getting another seat on a later train if I miss the booked connection are pretty well zero.

I shall end up walking to Calais, milling around with the Eritreans and the Somalis, trying to find a way back to sanity across the Channel. A solitary holiday seems a long way off. Why, oh why, did I make those bookings, at great expense, that I can’t now cancel?

Had I not done so, I would have the funds in my account that would make it a mere click to order the fabulous Gibson LP Premier Semi-hollow in Heritage Cherry Sunburst Perimeter which Messrs Guitar and Guitar have been pitching at me online ever since yesterday, at a one-off saving of £1,300…

As it is, I could, just about, do it – but leaving little margin for errors and sudden demands. It would require cancelling my home improvements schedule, selling everything – and, as Followers, Likers and Spammers of this, muh bogl, kno, that doesn’t always work either. (Yes, I’m still in the house. It had its third sale viewing in 22 months last week. They have become small triumphs in themselves. I spent a day on hands and knees scrubbing, but the viewer with the PhD in Geography – I had to ask why she calls herself ‘Doctor’, wouldn’t you have? – wasn’t impressed, at least she wasn’t showing it.)

Nothing I decide to do nowadays ever seems to work the way it’s supposed to, however carefully researched for fun my life’s itinerary. I seem to remember a time when I was fairly competent at the basics. Now…

By the way, it’s rəsearch, with the Schwa, not re-search. The stress falls on the second syllable.

I may have mentioned it before.



Monday a.m., Russell writes to Librans to say:

“The sooner you accept you have a limited amount of control over your life, the happier you will be. “

The Devil, they say, is in the detail. How does one define ‘a limited amount’? Limited, how, in scope – or duration?

I think we should be told!

Phew, not a scorcher

The “hottest day ever recorded” in Britain (36.5 degrees Celsius at Heathrow) dawns mild and clammy in West Wales. A cooling breeze drifts across the little town, off the Irish sea, along the valley. Clouds lower, a few spots of rain perturb the dusty pavements. Later still, wind-driven pulses of rain will shake the boughs of my neighbour’s trees and freight them low, knocking like ravens on my studio roof, where they hang unusually laden this year with fruit across our fence. I resolve to chop them back one night, when the old man is not out pottering in his unkempt garden, his knocked-up shed. I shan’t bother with the apples, let them rot where they fall. Let them rot. These teeth won’t stand up to apples.

I have opened all the windows I can, drawn the blinds or curtains across to shield the interior of the little house from the fierce desert sun (being over 65, I am of course heeding all the warnings and prognostications of the weatherman and the doctors guesting on Today, gleefully threatening my entire generation with imminent death from heart failure and respiratory complications, advising sagely that we should pour lots of tepid water over ourselves – the prospect of pneumonia clearly thrills them). I have put on my skimpiest T-shirt, shorts and sandals, clothing to enter the fiery furnace outside, to make obeisance to the sungod Ra. Who is nowhere to be seen above the cooling clouds, above the rain.

July already.

I have thirty days to organise my departure.

Five years ago I determined to become a professional jazz singer. You have to be something. I had run out of anything else I could think of becoming, in my lifetime. Jazz, of the more romantic, acceptable kind, was the music of my childhood, being as I was brought up in the theatre. Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Carmen McRae provided a soothing holiday counterpoint to muscular termtime Christianity and the antiphonal mumbo-jumbo of the fustian school chapel psaltery. Fifty and more years on, I could still remember the words to Summertime, Come Fly With Me, Stormy Weather. Though some remain to haunt me, I have suppressed most of the religious musical memories, as I have suppressed the Latin grammar I learned from the age of seven; the Greek verbs. Did the Greeks have verbs? I don’t remember.

Becoming a jazz singer in West Wales takes a determined effort. There is no habit of sinful jazz in this most po-faced of Presbyterian cultures. Except that, long ago, there was a bardic tradition of improvisational poetry. I cling to that thought, wandering through the wasteland of winsome folk ditties, the “Celtic fusion” tendency and the tiresome repetitive chanting of what I have unkindly called Zulu campfire songs, stolen from more colourful (and much poorer) foreign village cultures by self-promoting hippie musicologists for easy translation via the Sibelius program into simple harmonised teaching-fodder for quavery sopranos and uncertain basses in community choirs. Whenever I hear the words “natural voice practitioner”, I reach for my Billie Holiday CDs.

In order to launch myself on this Quixotic undertaking, I turned naturally to m’gudfriend Mr Google, where I found there were various summer schools of jazz singing being advertised in France. These were in the nature of boot camps, agreeably chateau-based, with international classes conducted through the medium of my own language and nightly recitals backed by professional musicians. I chose one, completed a questionnaire (“How many songs do you more or less know? Tick 1-5, 6-10, 11-20, more”) and sent off the deposit. It turned out to be the absolute best week of my life, after which all else pales before or since. Had Death arrived on a skinny nag as I battled my way homewards through the French transportation system and across London for three days and two nights (see Posts passim), I should have welcomed him with a bag of oats and a song. It was that good.

So I went again the following year; and the next, when I decided to try something different and travelled to the Dordogne instead, to a partly ruined castle belonging to a couple out of La Cage au Folles, that disappointingly had no pool. The following year, I sent off another deposit, but had to forfeit it and my place on the course when I ran short of money for the main event. Last year, too, I was virtually bankrupt, until rescued by the State and its generous pension system. French dock workers willing, this year will thus be my fourth attempt to absorb in one week, the mysteries of the jazz-singer’s art.

And I am panicking.

For I have let my rehearsal schedule slide. Faced with a rotting mountain of sheet music, ‘fake books’, downloads of lyrics without music, chord charts without words, I do not know where to begin preparing. So many songs, so little talent. I had to take up the guitar again, after forty years, as there was nobody I could find locally who could or would be my piano accompanist – certainly not without payment. But it’s not been going well. Despite having bought (and sold again) around a dozen guitars, some costing thousands of pounds, frustratingly none of them would play themselves.

I needed to learn, somehow. And at the heart of my problem was, I can never remember anything I have ever been taught about music theory. In one ear…

An eighteen-month affair with my music teacher ended consensually when she took up residence with a gay woman. We hadn’t had time for music lessons, I was too preoccupied with my stupid job, on-call round the clock; she with her other pupils. Classically trained, jazz theory meant nothing to her anyway. A wasted opportunity. I found a guitar teacher in town, albeit of the wrong (gypsy manouche) kind, tragically he developed leukemia and had to quit work; which was fortuitous as I had run out of money. I went on a weekend jazz guitar workshop in a dismal northern town and picked up a couple of tips, but the tutor found my playing style too ‘Spanish’ and not sufficiently jazzical; faced with my obvious inadequacies, I bought another expensive guitar, that I eventually had to sell for half what I had paid for it, and signed up for an online course that’s steadily accumulating in my inbox.

So, in answer to your question, what have I been doing about becoming a professional jazz singer between alcohol-fuelled boot camps in France, apart from practising the alcohol-fuelling procedure, the answer is practically nothing.

I don’t have the confidence in my playing ability to accompany myself onstage at either of our occasional “open-mic” local pub venues. I’m starting to forget lyrics, chord sequences; to develop annoying vocal tics, and run short of breath mid-phrase. I ought to be spurred on by the promotional emails I get from one of my fellow students on the first course I went to, Jenny Green, inviting me to her concerts at various venues, including London’s famed Pizza on the Park, or to buy her CD, as her career has taken off. (Curiously, I always thought I might be the better singer.) I can’t go and see her, obviously, living 250 miles away, so I wish her luck – it’s not my style, anyway.

And I have collected, I believe, everything ever recorded by my tutor on that course, the phenomenal Liane Carroll – among the Top 10 best jazz singers of all time, the most phenomenal thing about her being that she isn’t better known, while the tortured, self-indulgent and tragically late Amy Winehouse is hailed as some kind of jazz genius. Not only have I collected Liane’s life’s work, inasmuch as Amazon stocks it, I have captured her music: I know precisely where and for how long to place every sung note, much good will it do me. Now all I need do is master the piano parts…. (I once said to her, if it takes 20 years to get as good as you, I’ll still be only 80…)

Meantime I go on attending the community choirs in my desultory way, mopping up compliments on my vocal abilities with bad grace; knowing I could have been a contender. And in 30 days’ time, if I can just stop writing this stuff and making endless cups of coffee and knuckle down to practising – if Loco2 have indeed managed to reserve my complicated run of tickets so that station machines in the middle of rural France will actually deliver them on demand and I can organise a builder to come and refurbish the kitchen while I’m away and arrange for the new kitchen appliances to be delivered and the old taken away on time and buy some summer clothes to pack in the stupidly expensive, poncy Italian leather travel bag I bought, and find a dogsitter and order my Euros from the bank and decide which guitar I might decide in the end not to take with me after all, and the bloke looking after the B&B I’ve booked remembers who I was when I booked two months ago and hasn’t double-booked my room, and the French dock workers aren’t on strike again, despairing migrants blocking the Channel tunnel – I may get to be a jazz singer for just one more week in my life.

It’s like I’m under some weird enchantment, to be honest.

I blame the weather.


Whenever you buy outdoor clothing from a camping gear shop it’s always got at least six tags welded to it, hasn’t it, excitedly narrating the fascinating story of the incredible scientific advances that have gone into their new, breathable-technology rainwear.

I return from walking Hunzi on this cloudy, humid and lightly showery day, having tried out my new £59.99-reduced-to-£39.99 scrunchable high-tech breathable lightweight nylon showerproof cagoule for the first time, that I bought to go to jazz camp, positively dripping with sweat.

What is the point of it keeping the rain out, if you are going to be broiled in your own juices?

One day we may know.

And then you do

Old Age Pensioner…

In a little over a month’s time I shall, if spared, become an Old Age Pensioner. I roll the phrase around inside my grizzled old head for a moment, then spit it out contemptuously.

My grandfather was an Old Age Pensioner. I can’t possibly be compared with someone his age. I used to go occasionally to the hospital with my grandmother, where she was having a course of injections of metallic gold, supposed to cure her ‘rheumatism’, and see the Old Age Pensioners queuing up for the podiatrician to cut the ingrowing yellow old toenails they could no longer reach, on the free National Health Service, and think ‘there but for the grace of God I hope I never go’.

They must have been, what, 60?

And but for the accident when she slipped on the ice and broke her arm and the hospital left her in agony on a gurney in the corridor for five hours and she took to her armchair and eventually ten years later died from lack of exercise at the age of only 90, my granny would probably have lived to be 100.

The thought is both horrifying and comforting, in equal measure. I don’t think politically correctly speaking we still call the Over 65s ‘Old Age Pensioners’, as most of us are still on drugs and trying hard to accommodate Arctic Monkeys into our musical schema, and wondering if it isn’t time we made that pilgrimage back to Glastonbury with our teenage children by our third marriage and maybe think of changing our career trajectory….

As our society ages, we can all get excited by the return to the Hammersmith Odeon… sorry, Apollo, of the delicious Kate Bush, 56, making her first concert appearance since the Music Halls closed, and dream of happier times. The great Lord Page of Zeppelin is also much in the news, his playing on the 1968 single, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, having just been voted Best Guitar Riff of All Time by listeners to BBC Radio 2, the station for Old Age Pensioners.

Did I just bogl that yesterday? Can’t remember. Probably. Anyway…

I’ve said it before, but comparisons are indeed odious, whatever that tired aphorism actually means. There is, of course, no ‘Best’ of anything, ever. Can we say that Liane Carroll is the ‘Best’ jazz singer ever? How does she compare, say, with Billie Holiday, or Ella Fitzgerald? What we can say is that the eclectic modern music scene and her insistence on retaining her commercial and creative independence have allowed Liane to range with absolute assurance across a far broader musical spectrum than either of those undoubted Greats, whose output was channeled through the much narrower music industry and culture of their day.

And she must be, what, 60?

Old Age Pensioner. It’s not something you think much about when you’re 25. By 35 you’re so riddled with angst you can’t think about anything much, except your upcoming divorce and whether you made the right career decision and where’s your next car coming from? By 45 you’re balding, overweight, impotent and about ready to give up, yet there’s another twenty years to get through somehow, probably riddled with cancer and on the verge of bankruptcy. And the thought of hitting 65 knowing the teenage actuaries in the insurance racket are glumly predicting that you will cling on to your pension annuity for twenty years more, thanks to the wonders of modern NHS medicine, is just outrageous.

And then you do.

Personally, I would have voted for the Best Guitar Solo of all time, Andrew Latimer’s playing on the track ‘Lunar Sea’, from the album Moon Madness, by Camel. Or maybe something by Dave Gilmour. Even Page’s solo on ‘Stairway to Heaven’, to my mind still the best rock track ever, ever. You young whippersnappers wouldn’t have the faintest idea. By an amusing coincidence,  ‘Lunar Sea’ was recorded, in 1976, at the very same Hammersmith Odeon (sorry, Apollo) where the mighty Bush made her triumphant re-emergence on the stage last night.

I once saw Dizzy Gillespie play there.

Hey ho.


An impolite dinner guest

(Guitar alert, again)

Hello. It’s been a week since I thought of anything to share with you, after I ate all the apple crumble.

I’ve been quite excited by the launch of a new piece of technology, that will revolutionise the art of sitting in your bedroom, morosely twanging an electric guitar in the hope that one day you will sound like Jimmy Page. He played lead guitar with Led Zeppelin. They were a rock band. In the 1970s… A decade in the 1900s… Oh well. Another guitar player, then.

Anyway, for a while now my friends at Guitar Guitar have been bombarding me with emails about this new amplifier. Imaginatively, it’s called Amplifi. I discovered last night from watching the video from manufacturers Line 6 that it’s pronounced, not ‘amplifee’, but ‘amplify’. Why they couldn’t just spell it phoneticalli, ee don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a genuinely evolutionary breakthrough, the first guitar amplifier that talks to your mobile phone, and vice versa. You get an ‘app’ for your mobile phone, and it offers you a screen with 200 different tone icons, and you send one to Amplifi and it changes the sound of your guitar to an organ, or maybe a violin. Any instrument you don’t play.

And you can phone it up and tell it to sound like some other amplifier, you have a choice of 50, so if you can tell the difference between the sound of a guitar played through a Vox AC30 and a Carlsboro Cobra 110, a Marshall or a Fender Mustang whatever, you can make your guitar sound like you are playing it through the most expensive amp money can buy. Why settle for less?

What’s more, you can go online to a thing called The Cloud, which at the moment is helpfully downloading gallons of water on my little garden, and find all the tones and amplifier combinations and little tunes you made up, that have been recorded for you, and play them back through Amplifi so you can strum along to them. And you can find all your friends’ little tunes and tones, if you have any friends by now, and play along with them too, and it sounds like you do have some other friends in your room and they are all professional musicians and you are playing happily along together, at MU rates. And then you can share your fuzzy tunes with your virtual friends at Facetweet, what’s not to like?

A kind of musical ‘selfie’!

And, miraculously, you can play the tunes-u-love off your mobile phone or wee-fi or whatever, your laptop (stop playing with your laptop, little Jimmy!) or iPadphone thing, that you have recorded to listen to while jogging or on the train – any piece of music – into Amplifi’s plughole, and Amplifi will listen carefully to the song or the symphony or whatever and you can select which instrument you want to be and it will make your guitar sound exactly like that instrument, including its tone settings. So you can twangalong to yourself, to Wrong Direction’s latest chart topper, to a late Beethoven quartet (it stores four voices, helpfully!), Paco Peña or whatever, Pat Metheny, and it sounds like they are all in the room playing along with you.

How cool is that?

Amplifi comes thoughtfully in two versions, the big one and the little one. It doesn’t even look much like an amplifier, so (according to the video presenter) your wife won’t complain that you bought yet another amplifier, because she’s too stupid to notice and besides it’s also a docking station for her wee-fi and you can plug your stereo in using wire-free Bluetooth for parties so guests don’t trip over the cable and it looks good in your living room. Being two-tone, it goes with any two items of furniture that happen to be red or black. And because it has lots of speakers, it will play lots of instruments out of different holes and you just play through the big one in the middle and all the instruments get blended together but sounding separate and it’s just fantastic what it can do.

But the best thing is, it’s dirt cheap! The little Amplifi is only £275 and the big one only £375. I had to call the ambulance service out to have myself forcibly restrained from pressing the Buy Now! button on the Guitar Guitar email, offering me the opportunity to Win an Amplifi! along with the 800 other entrants who had already correctly guessed the answer to the multiple-choice question and pressed the Enter Now! And Be Forever Humored by the Gods Above button. I knew that if by some chance I did not win one, I would have to buy one.

And that would be where I might start kicking myself.

For a start, I am an elderly wannabe jazz player and a purist. I only want my guitar ever to make one tone, and that is the purest, flattest, jazziest tone you can make this side of 52nd Street. Not a loud buzzing noise, like a bees’ nest you are poking with a stick. Not a noise like a herd of desperate crocodiles sliding down a blackboard. Not the loud wailing sound of the Ebmi7 arpeggio played repeatedly in the 3rd position, with anguished bendy blue notes, sounding uncannily like the inner mind-workings of a petulant teenager banished to his room. Neither an organ, nor a violin, that I don’t play, but Joe Pass’s Holy Epiphone.

Secondly, even assuming I could arrange to sound like that, I don’t possess an iPadphone thing; nor do I understand how to use Bluetooth, or what an app actually is, or where and in which dimension and why The Cloud exists, or what is in it for me, that is not going to result in a huge phone bill or an epiletic convulsion. As far as I’m concerned, it may as well be The Cloud of Unknowing*. I have no friends whose little fuzzy tunes I want to suck from The Cloud; nor are the tunes-I-love stored anywhere other than on CDs – alright, I may have managed to transfer about a third of them to the Media Player thingy on this, muh li’l laptop, so I imagine there is a possibility that my son could instinctively work-out how to persuade Amplifi to make my guitar sound like Joe Pass’s Epiphone, if he could stop sneering at me long enough.

And I do have an Epiphone! But the only thing that will realistically make me sound like Joe Pass is to be granted another twenty years of life, a good teacher, and the money to pay for them. While all Amplifi will do for me is to sit accusingly in the corner, clashing hideously with the decor, head in a cloud, phoning its friends on my bill.

An impolite dinner guest, the future always arrives too early.

*Late medieval mystical text. I haven’t read it either. Look it up.

Oh, stuff that Gibson

“If Eric Clapton had personally played all the guitars with his name on them, he would never have had the time to become famous.”

(Boring guitar chat alert)

Anyone who has an interest in life is going to want to share it with friends. It’s one of the penalties of friendship, that your friend could waste good drinking time droning on about fishing flies or his divorce or the golf or the latest version of Windows or Harley Davidsons or the price of property or Manchester United’s waning fortunes – and you would put up with it, for the sake of your friendship.

So, I happen to have an interest in guitars. So now you do too. And what I wanted to drone on about does in fact have wider relevance. It’s this:

Why are people so daft?

Now, I’m no expert. I bought my first guitar, or rather I persuaded my granny to buy it for me, when I was eleven years old. That was over half a century ago. I started a little pop group at my preparatory school, just three guitars, and we played Cliff Richard and Elvis covers, assuming they didn’t run to a fourth chord.

I gave up playing the guitar five years later, after a disastrous gig one night at my public school, when I just couldn’t play a note right. I hate to be embarrassed like that. And four years later, my friend Terry Milewski hocked my Hofner V3 to finance his escape to Canada, just ahead of the Doncaster police. There followed 32 years of serial marriages, during which there were to be no little personal luxuries.

Finally, four years ago everything came to a head. Freshly divorced, I was able to cash-in a long-ago paid-up pension plan; my father died, and left me some of his mother’s jewellery, which fetched a bit of money at auction…. at last, I was free and able to afford a guitar – which I had decided to take up again, only because I wanted to be a jazz singer but nobody else would play with me.

Now, as I said, I’m no expert – either as a player, or as a connoisseur of fine guitarware. I am learning all the time. And what I have learned is depressing, obviously (or it wouldn’t qualify for a mention on this, muh bogl).

What I have discovered is that if an old guitar has the word Gibson written on the headstock, the twiddly bit at the top end of the stick, then it will probably fetch between £2.4 and £24 THOUSAND, although it may well be made of plywood, as hollow-body Gibsons tend to be.*

But if it doesn’t bear the magic Gibson name, you can’t give the bloody thing away.

I discovered this, when I tried to sell my 1962 Epiphone E452T ‘Sorrento’ (see Posts passim). In 1956, Chicago Music, which owned the Gibson brand, acquired the Epiphone company. For ten years, Gibson remained the budget version of Epiphone, whose guitars were considered to have more cachet in the market. A number of models were created in parallel, using the same materials, dies and blanks, in the same factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and were sold under both brand names. They were identical, other than in some of the detailing and the quality of the fittings.

The E452T is, in fact, the slightly superior version of the Gibson ES125TC, which has been described as the ‘student’ model. But, thanks to clever rebranding, the 1960s Gibson nowadays sells as a collectors’ item for anything between £1,800 and £2,500, while I cannot even get an offer around £800 for my superior but otherwise identical Epiphone, which is in remarkable condition for 52 years of age and made by exactly the same people, in the same place, to the same design, from the same bits of plywood and metal, because it has the name Epiphone written on the twiddly end of the stick, and not bloody Gibson.

Guitars sell for even more, don’t they, when the name on the headstock is allied with that of some celebrity endorser. A good rockstar signature is often worth an extra few tens or hundreds of pounds, and makes for a story to attach to the product publicity. This usually tells of how the Gilded Demiurge has worked tirelessly for years in collaboration with craft elves of unrivalled artistry to design the perfect instrument for all of that stellar dexterity to rub-off on 15-year-old you, alone in your lonely room and dreaming of fame. If Eric Clapton had personally played all the guitars with his name on them, he would never have had the time to become famous.

Worse, is the dealer markup. I had to pay the dealer £1,400 to acquire my Epiphone. I fell for it two years ago, out of sheer boredom while attending a weekend jazz workshop. Amid another thirty or so foolish old men flourishing their cherished plywood Gibsons out of their plush coffins, many costing upwards of £10,000 (see, it gets worse!), to spend the hours before lunch dutifully strumming the changes from Sweet Sue under the jaundiced eye of a weary virtuoso, I could not stop my other self buying it. It had a wonderfully slick playing action and a great jazz tone, it played me for about an hour and I just had to have it…. I checked with Mister Internet, and found only three others for sale in the UK, not necessarily in such good or original condition, yet all costing more. It seemed like a fair price for a unique item: a ‘collectible’….

But every time you buy a ‘heritage’ guitar from a dealer, beware. He will be charging you twice what the instrument is worth, were you to presume to sell it again. And if you offer it back to a dealer, he will give you half of what you gave for it  and sell it on again for four times as much. No-one else will be very interested in buying it at any price: there are tens of thousands of secondhand guitars languishing on sales websites the world over. (To the hallowed halls of guitar fame, many are called, but, as I discovered on stage that night in 1965 in front of an audience of 200 uncomfortably shuffling schoolboys, few are chosen.)

You can never win, with a dealer. (They do, after all, have overheads. You don’t. Living is optional.)

And you can never win, if you fail to understand one thing about the magical quality invested in a brand: that graphic expression of people’s blind faith in meaningless symbols of power and prestige:

It doesn’t half improve your playing.


The Friday-evening email Bulletin of Earthly Delights arrives from Guitar Guitar, a sales website not unknown to me, to provide a perfect example of what I am saying, innit.

There is a particular design of guitar called a ‘Les Paul’, doesn’t matter what that is. There was an original, once. Just to say that a pre-owned Les Paul-style guitar made by a company called Westfield is listed at £125, while the virtually indistinguishable-looking pre-owned Gibson ‘1959 edition’ Les Paul above it, signed by the rock god Paul Kossoff, is ‘Only £7,995’)….

Made, of course, from pure Martian crystal, inlaid with hens’ teeth; strings handspun by especially blinded fairies from Madonna’s personal hair….

*Hang on, I’ve just found a 1937 Gibson jumbo acoustic guitar online, advertised at a tad under SIXTY thousand… Blimey.

Urgent messages from the past

(Jazz alert)

I don’t understand how CDs become unplayable.

About five years ago, I got a friend with the necessary equipment to make me a safety backup copy on CD of a vinyl album in my possession, Kind Of Blue – the classic 1959 CBS session by the Miles Davis quintet (with Bill Evans), that is still the best-selling jazz album of all time, unless you believe that Brubeck and Desmond’s Time Out is. I was worried in case the vinyl got scratched or worn out, as I play it almost every night before bed.

Last night I put the CD copy on, to which my friend has annoyingly added ‘bonus’ tracks of takes that Miles obviously wasn’t happy with, that made me think he’d downloaded it off the remix CD and not taken it directly from the vinyl album, and it started skipping about everywhichway,  stammering and yammering and doing wheelies and whatever it is that technically CDs do when they are completely buggered, and I thought, this is crazy, I’ve played this thing about twice in its life, and I’ve played the vinyl version about two thousand times and it’s got only two little pops on it but they don’t jump, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever even cleaned it.

What is especially annoying about this discovery is that the hard drive died on my laptop a while back and after the shop put in another one half my music had reverted to some Platonic realm where Microsoft won’t let me play it without a licence, so I have had to re-load a lot of albums from my CDs, and this was going to be one of them. Now, I don’t have a copy of Kind of Blue on my laptop, to take around with me to play in strange rooms before bed. I shall have to buy one. Bonus tracks and all.

Do you remember when CDs first came on the market about 30 years ago, everyone said they would last forever and were far less likely to become damaged and ruin the listening experience  than groovy, melty, scratchy-poppy old vinyl, that you assaulted with a worn stylus and not a techy laser beam delivering scientific perfection every time? It was bullshit! You only have to breathe on CDs and they won’t play. The frequencies are compressed and have to be continuously sampled and re-expanded digitally and it sounds crap. Bleah.

All of which goes to remind me that next year sees the 50th anniversary of the day I bought my vinyl copy of Kind of Blue.

I was stuck at a tragically expensive boarding school outside a dull provincial town somewhere in the English midlands, the selection of jazz music in the local record store was pathetic, a rack of Pye Golden Guinea compilations, but miraculously one day there it was. I’d never heard of Miles, I don’t think, but I was kind of blue too (mainly through cold) and he changed my life. Fifty years of listening pleasure.

Although I have lost probably dozens of other recordings down the backs of sofas during that time, it is astonishing to think that I have been lugging around this one precious disc of vinyl for half a century, from school to home to house to farm to town, through two marriages and two kids and six dogs and fifteen cats and two dozen jobs lost that I will never do again, a hundred dangerous DIY projects, and here it still is delivering the same deep sense of satisfaction every time that it did when I was 14 years old. It’s extraordinary, like it’s divinely protected.

Blue in Green is still the Moonlight Sonata of the modern jazz era, an almost perfect, eternal creation; Flamenco Sketches still haunts my dreams, and the first tune I tried to play on the bass was Paul Chambers’ riff from So What? Coltrane still has the power to move mountains, and Evans’ eloquent minimalism creates profound silences that say more about the human spirit than a thousand whining digital dirges from Rihanna or One Dimension.

Last month, my 89-year-old mother, who goes to Zumba classes and smokes 20 a day, called to say she’d been reading on an album cover about Juliette Greco whom she last saw live in Paris in the 1940s but hadn’t known about the long affair with Miles and would I send her some of his music because she didn’t think she’d ever heard any?

So I got Amazing.uk to send her the KoB CD, but it’s not the same as the vinyl original: a diminished, homogenised version of a venerable object bearing urgent messages from the past.

In praise of… Liane Carroll

I was born in the metaphorical trunk. Both my parents were on the stage. My father understudied Ivor Novello. Mother was always a shoo-in for Lady MacB***. Their tastes, and those of their extravagant friends, many of whom were employed to babysit me, were Bohemian, theatrical – camp, even.

We acquired somehow, a radiogram with a Garrard autochange deck that stacked six LPs at a time. I imbibed with my mother’s milk (with a dash of vodka) and the smell of size coming off the flats in the grimy postwar repertory theatres, the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Judy Garland – Marlene Dietrich, to name just the female line of divas who, I was constantly assured, were ‘absolutely marvellous, darling’. (None compared, of course, in my mother’s fantasies, with Frank Sinatra…)

Later, although my parents had signally failed to raise their son as entirely gay, I discovered for myself and mentally added to the previous list, another line of female singers, that included the divine Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Annie Ross – Nina Simone. I hope I am not missing too many out, it’s been a long time. I noted too, my father’s weird attachment to Zarah Leander.

British late-evening television arts programmes and provocative satire shows in the 1960s followed the US habit of introducing a musical interlude, requiring just the right degree of louche sophistication that light jazz provided. Thus, I became aware of Blossom Dearie, Millicent Martin, Marion Montgomery – Cleo Laine, with her incredible, four-octave range – and later, Anita Wardell and Trudy Kerr. Later still, of course, came your Cassandra Wilsons and Esperanza Spaldings, Diana Krall, Norah Jones – with a brief flash of Amy Winehouse.

In 2009 I turned 60, and, madly deciding I might yet manage to embark on a late-flowering career, decided to turn myself from a mediocre chorister into a jazz singer; the problem being, there is no proper jazz in Aberystwyth, where I had found myself living; and no-one to accompany me, who understood about jazz phrasing and the tradition of reinterpreting ‘standards’ from Tin Pan Alley, blues, showtunes, ‘torch songs’ and ballads, exemplified by all the tremendous ladies I have listed here (and a few men – don’t get me started on Mark Murphy, Buddy Greco, Mel Tormé). Familiarity with the historic arrangements is all-important.

So, along with sixteen women and one other male singer (guys, just consider that ratio!), I signed-up on the interweb thing for a jazz singers’ workshop in southeast France; sent off all my money, battled for three days with trains and boats and planes (and taxis) to get to the venue (an agreeable chateau with two swimming pools), and found myself enjoying the best week, bar none, of my life, singing under the tuition of the unbelievable Ms Carroll.

Liane Carroll

This entire preamble is by way of confessing that I actually know Liane slightly, hence any possible bias; and for the purpose of stating, on the basis of some experience, that I consider her to be more than worthy of a place in the Pantheon of the top female jazz singers, ever.

Comparisons are odious. One cannot say this or that singer is ‘the best’, or even ‘better than…’, as they have all had to work within the constraints of the prevailing commercial ethos, the musical accompaniment and the fashions of their time. From their individually unique experiences, often guided by producers and arrangers, they developed their own individual styles, and built a new world of jazz ‘on the shoulders’ of their own giants. Now, today’s singers build on theirs.

But Liane is like switching-on colour television for the first time: she draws on such an astonishingly vibrant palette of sounds and emotions. A thoughtful and intelligent singer with enormous range, power, lyricism, an adventurous approach and natural phrasing, she is the synthesis of all the best of her musical heritage, who wastes not a single note, who takes no musical phrase at face value. Notes are not a commodity to be sprayed around in the generalised service of  ‘jazz feel’, or ‘chops’, but an infinite series of opportunities to find new expression and interpretation. Each phrase she sings is like an individual brushstroke: considered, explored, personal: a microcosmic musical world in its own right. In short, she has technique – and in spades. But she doesn’t let it get in the way of telling the story.

Her sheer musicality – she is an accomplished jazz pianist too, sensibly married to a virtuosic bass player – and breadth of technique, pay homage to so many fabulous singers of the past, yet are entirely her own. She is unbelievably versatile: there is no style of singing, short of operatic (I imagine!), that she will not attempt, often within the envelope of a single number; and bring her own quirky perspective and total, balls-out commitment to it.

Whether an overperformed standard like ‘My Funny Valentine’ or a romantic Michel Legrand tear-jerker, a rough-edged Tom Waites or Todd Rundgren ballad, a haunting version of Bill Evans’ ‘Turn Out the Stars’, a belting soul arrangement of Becaud’s perfervid ‘What Now My Love?’, the soft gospel feel of ‘Some Children See Him’ or an emotionally complicated song by Laura Nyro, on whatever budget she can afford she makes every recorded track and every live performance entirely unique. Her explosive rendition of ‘Witchcraft’ on the 2011 album Up and Down could be one of the most exciting jazz performances you will ever hear, though it lasts only a breathtaking 2’45”. Her collaboration with Gwylim Simcock on Noel Coward’s ‘Mad About the Boy’, on the 2012 Ballads album, points the way to a higher musical reality.  Her willingness to boldly go where no jazz singer has gone before has even extended to appearing on drum ‘n’ bass recordings with London Elektricity.

Is Liane a glamorous American star, from LA, then, or Hackensack, New Jersey? No, Liane is British, from a humdrum commuter town in Surrey, and a grandmother. You could not meet anyone more ordinary, less pretentious. In the crass and insensitive words of the hapless sports reporter John Inverdale, she is not really ‘a looker’. This possibly makes her more difficult to market: although she increasingly commands bigger arrangements, brass sections and strings, she has not got a contract with a major record label but records privately, in small studios; probably by choice.

Yet she commands the support of many of the best of the current talented crop of modern British jazz musicians. In addition to Simcock, arguably the nearest thing we have in this country to a musical genius, she works regularly with James MacMillan, Kirk Whalum, Kenny Wheeler, husband Roger Carey, John Paricelli, Mark James, Bobby Welling, Simon Purcell, Julian Siegel… Ian Shaw.

I honestly don’t know how well known Liane is in the wider world, it is not a place I go to very often. I suspect hardly at all. She has made perhaps nine or ten albums, toured extensively, played the clubs, been on the wireless, won awards (not enough!). But you seldom hear about her, unless you are in the inner circle of jazz aficionados. No media pack follows her every move, no secret heartbreaks are slavishly reported. She has never appeared on the cover of Hello! magazine, so far as I know.

It seems to me, regardless, that she is very probably the finest jazz singer of her generation and bids fair to belong in the company of the very best of all time. The public’s loss is our gain.

Visit her web site: http://www.lianecarroll.co.uk