Record Store Day/Are You Listening? Festival 2017

In what is now rapidly becoming a tradition I was up at 05:45 and in the centre of Reading by 06:15 to join the back of the queue for Record Store Day 2017.

When the list was first published earlier this year I looked down it and found that little on it moved me. I did wonder whether to skip it completely this year but in the end it’s actually a fun thing to do – stand out in the cold for two and a half hours fretting that the one thing you really want on your list will have already gone!

What I really wanted this year was the new release by The The, limited to only 2000 copies UK-wide I did wonder whether by the time I reached the head of the queue it would be gone. That presented no problems as it turned out and I even managed to snap up the shops only copy of The Buggles “Video killed the radio star” a 12″ picture disc.

This is the 10th year of Record Store Day and when it was first started it was to help local, independent record stores. With the resurgence of vinyl one wonders if that is still necessary and whether the record companies see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The prices for these releases can be eye watering. The The The single is an excellent but one sided 7″ coming in at £10. While the 12″ double Marillion album on gold coloured vinyl was better value at just over double that. My total spend this year was £63 but the guy in front of me spent £380…

This year Record Store Day coincided with the Are you listening? music festival held in town. By the time this started I was beginning to run out of steam (I’m not as young as I once was) and so I didn’t do as much as I did last year.

I saw Big Zero once again and I really like their quirky ways but being on at 2pm was way too early for their kind of music. I also enjoyed the Amazons in conversation with some Radio 1 DJ (Unless it is Tony Blackburn I have no idea on modern R1 DJs) so much so that I have had their “Black Magic” on repeat almost since then.

Looking at the dates for next years festival and record store day it is unlikely that I will be able to attend either as that is when we’ll likely be on holiday which is a great shame as both are great fun.

Yorkshire by Plane

Last weekend, for the first time, we made the trip to my in-laws in Yorkshire by plane. Normally we would make the 200 mile journey either by road or rail. We prefer to let the train take the strain if we can as we prefer to let someone else drive and we can avoid the inevitable queues on the M1. For some reason this time I checked the prices of flights from Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford and was surprised that the cost was very similar to the train prices. By catching an early flight we could be in Yorkshire for breakfast – something that wouldn’t have been possible with the train.

So early Friday morning (it was the Easter weekend) we made our way to Heathrow. Of course the headline price didn’t include parking at the airport which bumps up the price but if we’d wanted to we could have taken the bus which would have helped.

What you don’t get on the train are the security checks required of modern plane travel and it was with dismay that I saw our only bag selected for additional screening. This was not good news as the queue was long but when we did get to the front the reason was explained to us – the scan looked as if we had put liquid in our case. We hadn’t but we had to empty the contents to prove it. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as we had packed a number of presents for people which were wrapped. We had visions of being asked to unwrap them all to prove that they weren’t liquids. Fortunately the security officer was able to identify the offending item which we told him was a set of wooden flowers. Once they had been rescanned and swabbed we were good to go without further delay.

British Airways, in its drive to go downmarket and compete with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair, no longer provides anything in the way of food and drink for short haul flights so we breakfasted in the airport before flying. While I understand that BA wishes to be seen to be competitive on price taking away the last differentiator doesn’t seem to be to be the best way to do that. Of course the low cost carriers don’t fly from Heathrow… yet.

The train journey to Yorkshire takes over four hours and involves a change of trains at York. The plane is direct and takes only 45 minutes – not long enough to comfortably complete an episode of Blakes 7 as I discovered! That meant that flying we were out of the airport and on our way by 9am. On the train by 9am we wouldn’t be much further than Oxford.

There is, however, one similarity between all modes of transport – when you reach your destination the weather will be exactly the same and in our case grey and drizzily.

#KeepTheSecrets

About 18 months ago tickets for the Harry Potter plays went on sale and I found myself in an online queue waiting patiently to get to the front. When I did I managed to secure tickets for March 2017. That seemed like such a ridiculously long time away and, it was, but eventually it did come round and we finally went last weekend.

The reason that this post is called #KeepTheSecrets is that is what you are asked to do when seeing the play so I will try and not give any spoilers in this post but if you are at all concerned look away now, as they say.

I’d wondered how well the Harry Potter universe, which covers such a geographically spread and diverse set of locations, would translate to the stage. I was even more curious when I saw what was, to all intents and purposes, an empty stage. The designers has decided that there was no way that they were going to recreate the scenes such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and so went for a minimalist look that worked incredibly well. There were a number of stage tricks that were used to perform some of the better known tricks that appear in both the books and film – travelling by floo being simple but incredibly effective. Movable staircases and trunks are made good use of to cover all sorts of situations.

The story itself takes place 20 years after the last book and centres around the friendship of the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy – Albus and Scorpius respectively. Neither seem to live up to the expectations of their fathers and Harry in particular just seems to spend all his time with Albus shouting at him.

Again without giving too much away I was pretty disappointed with the story which I thought was pretty weak and just an excuse to go over lots of old ground, sort of like a greatest hits of the books/films. Of course die hard Harry Potter fans will welcome this but to me it seemed a wasted opportunity.

Oh and I really don’t think that it needs to be spread over two parts – unless you are the promotor of course…

So an enjoyable experience yes and incredibly well staged but let down by a weak story that didn’t do the books justice.

York, England, 2017

We have a busy year of travelling planned for 2017 which started with a trip to York last weekend to meet some friends. As usual we got the train up from Reading arriving late Friday afternoon to a decidedly chilly platform. As it turned out that was to be the high point as far as the weather was concerned and affected our decisions on where we went.

Saturday morning we met up with our friends and decided that given the cold, wet conditions we needed to start with something indoors and so we made our way to the York Museum. Actually I think that’s a bit of a misnomer as the museum is less about York and much more to do with social history of the UK. There are some interesting exhibits but the real attraction is the recreation of a Victorian street. Turns out that the shop fronts here are all originals taken from streets from across the UK – no doubt now replaced by big glass fronted windows. The street goes on for a surprising distance and includes quite a variety of shops.

Exiting the museum the rain was just as hard as when we went in. Hoping that it might ease off over lunch proved not to be the case and so another dry option was sought. First choice was to visit the minster but the £10 per person price tag was off putting and so finally I got to go round the cathedral like building that houses the railway museum!

Now I’m no train spotter but there are some beautiful machines housed in the enormous museum buildings. They have managed to collect together a vast range of machines spanning both ages and continents. However, I really only have eyes for the marvels that are the steam trains, such magnificent pieces of engineering, some of which have wheels taller than me.

Unlike the minster entry to the Railway Museum is free but I’d have happily paid to go round and so made a donation instead.

Sunday was spent plodding round the wet streets of the Shambles, a narrow set of quaint streets around the minster. No doubt in days gone by they would have been selling snacks and souvenirs to tourists visiting the minster. Not much has changed as there between the Fat Faces and the White Stuffs are shops selling bags of fudge and tacky fridge magnets.

York is a lovely place which much to do and see but try and go when it isn’t wet and cold.

Art

It’s been a while since I have posted because, well, because life has got in the way and basically I forgot! However, I thought that a trip to the Old Vic on Saturday to see Art was worth a mention.

It has been many many years since we have been to see Art – the play about three friends and one painting – in fact a quick Google suggests that it might be as much as 18 years. The last time the purchaser of said painting was Art Malik and this time it was Rufus Sewell. The play has a bit of the emperors new clothes about it with Serge (Sewell) buying a white canvas and waxing lyrical about to his friends whom he expects to also see the beauty in this all white painting.

I’m reminded of a trip we took to the Tate Liverpool where there was a picture by the American artist Ad Reinhardt. The canvas looked black but the more you stared at it the more that colours that had been painted underneath came through. Helen to this day insists that there was nothing there and it was a waste of wall space whilst I found it fascinating. So I can sympathise with Serge that his friends don’t really get the picture or the fact that he has spent €100,000 on it.

Of course the play isn’t really about the picture itself but is used as a device to bring the tensions in the relationships between the three men to the fore and in particular between Serge and Mark. It is all beautifully done and the three playing the parts we saw at the weekend were brilliant as was the set (with the worlds largest coving) and the music.

One aside is the ridiculous no photography rule that the theatre had. I quite understand that there shouldn’t be any pictures taken while the performance is underway but the bouncers ushers were on anyone that even tried to take a selfie long before the performance started. I don’t understand the point of this. No doubt many people would have posted the picture to social media which would have promoted both the play and the theatre. In this day and age it seemed very short-sighted. Oh and it wasn’t me trying to take a picture this time!

10cc, Reading Hexagon, 23rd October 2016

Thirty four years ago, on 13th March 1982, I went to my first ever gig to see 10cc at the Oxford Apollo. At that point they were really only 5cc and were distinctly past their best but I was hooked. Last week I saw them again. They are now down to 2.5cc but really rather much back to their best.

As is in vogue right now the first half of the show was taken up by playing the whole of one album – Sheet Music, which, in my opinion is their best along side The Original Soundtrack. Inevitably this means putting up with some rather dodgy material along with some cracking tunes.

Sheet Music was released when 10cc where at their very best and the original four members were all together. Only Graham Gouldman of the original quartet now remains but for this performance one of the original members, Kevin Godley, had created a video soundtrack and had even contributed the vocal to the operatic, Somewhere in Hollywood, which was a nice touch. It has some great lyrics including: “He’s out on the patio | With his polaroid and scenario”.

The second half of the show was a spirited romp through a number of the groups hits along with a few lesser known tracks such as Feel the Benefit from Bloody Tourists.

The fact that the group are still going strong and that the place was pretty full seems to suggest that there is still an appetite for 10cc. Which is why I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a big money offer for the original four to get back together and play again. Maybe there has and it has been rejected? Whatever the reason that’s a great shame as they made some really classy music together including one of the most sublime pieces of all time… I’m Not in Love.

Sicily 2016 – Day 11 – And home

So the holiday is over for another year. Time has really gone quickly and we have packed an awful lot into our two weeks and had a great time. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.

What I’ll miss

The barque architecture – the places we visited to the south of the island were superb, even if the most of them were churches. The buildings that were built up after the earthquake are stunning as we discovered in Ragusa, Scicli and especially, Noto. All are recommended for a visit.

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In the steps of Inspector Montalbano – the very reason that we came to Sicily in the first place. Having seen the scenery on the TV series we decided that it was just the place we would like to visit and weren’t disappointed. Also going to the places where it is filmed and seeing some of the buildings used was great fun.

Lemon Soda –  After walking around under the hot Italian sun there is nothing more refreshing than a can of Lemon Soda. Similar to a bitter lemon but not as, well, bitter. Great shame that it’s not available in the UK so maybe I’ll have to look at importing some in.

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Arancini – On holiday in the past we have struggled to find something less than a full meal to have for lunch when all you really want is a snack, a quick sandwich. The Arancini is a local delicacy and just what’s needed for a quick lunch on the go. Pyramid in shape it is mainly rice with a tiny amount of filling.

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Courteous Drivers – I have to admit that this one came as a bit of a surprise given how poor the standard of driving seems to be generally in Italy. In all towns we visited drivers would stop to let you cross the road pretty much anywhere, not just at a marked crossing. They would even pull up sharply to let you do so. Probably just as well though as parking right across a pedestrian crossing was also popular making it difficult to cross!

What I won’t miss

Biting animals – The flies round here are vicious and liked to feed upon us at regular intervals. Having got what they came for they left behind an itchy spot that remained for several days as an unpleasant reminder. Next time we’ll remember to pack some strong repellent.

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Sicily 2016 – Day 12 – Scicli

Today is our last day in Sicily. Boy has it gone quickly. 

It was back on the train again today and once more in search of Inspector Montalbano. This time it was to Scicli which is used for other parts of the fictional Vigata including the police station (shown above). 

It’s odd seeing places from TV for real as they are nothing like you expect. Clever camera angles hide things you wouldn’t want in a scene and the inside might be disconnected from the outside. So it was today. Stepping into the “police station” (in reality it is the town hall) is not what you see on the TV. No long corridor leading to the inspectors office instead there are stairs at the top of which is the mayor’s office used in the series as Montalbano’s boss’ office. Very confusing! Good fun though and we’re keen to watch some episodes again to see how they make it all fit together. 


So tomorrow we fly back but as if to ease me back into the ways of work it all kicked off back in the office. This only served to remind me how things have changed over the years. Maybe ten years back we would go off and it MIGHT have been possible to reach me by phone but more likely was that the only contact would have been a postcard from me saying “glad I’m not there!”. Today I can be much more hands on thanks to my pocket computer that can also make calls. This is not a stress free way to have a holiday. 

Sicily 2016 – Day 11 – Siracusa

Decided to have a more relaxing day today after the couple of train journeys we have taken over the last two days. 

In the morning we went back into the island part of Siracusa – Ortiga – and made our way to the market. It was an odd mix of amazing fresh fish and vegetable stalls along side those selling the sorts of tack you see in the independent pound shops in the UK. It was an opportunity to also sample some local wears such as delicious sun dried tomatoes and a local cheese. 

After finishing at the market we wandered the streets looking in the touristy shops which again were a mixture of cheap, tacky tourist stuff and more thoughtful gifts. The sour and miserable server in Zara was a nice reminder of home though.


We have passed a few times now a quaint looking little tea shop cum bookshop but it has always been shut but tonight the stars aligned and we found it open. 

I started with a hot chocolate with hazelnut which arrived below and was, basically, hot Nuttella and delicious. Next up was a much needed English breakfast yes which I’ve much missed. 

Tomorrow we are back on track so to speak.