Tag Archives: reading

Marillion, Hexagon, 19th April 2018 – So Here I am Once More

It has been a while since the last time I saw Marillion live – 34 years to be precise. A lot has happened since then for both them and me. My last outing to see them was at the Apollo in Oxford when Fish was still the front man. He burst onto the stage through a large bit of white paper I seem to remember. These days he’s not quite so active and is more concerned with his potted plants and new greenhouse.

Support for the band was Roxanne de Bastion, a folky-poppy singer who arrived on stage on crutches wearing only what appeared to be a nightshirt, one red boot and a leg cast. It was an interesting ensemble!

Next up was something else that I hadn’t seen before. Someone, the tour manager, I guess came out and told us about how they weren’t one of those restrictive bands. They were happy for us to take pictures and post videos to YouTube but please don’t use your mobile because it blocks the view of the person behind. This seemed somewhat contradictory to me. If you spotted anyone taking pictures you’d know that they were, apparently, a “twat”. I guess that makes me a twat then, although I did wait until the second encore.

And finally, they were here, on stage in front of me.

They make for an interesting bunch of people. Out front is Steve Hogarth who was excitable and expressive (His movements during the songs reminded me of comedian David Armand’s interpretive dance routine to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”). He also had an odd line in musical instruments including a cricket bat, yes, a cricket bat which had been converted into some sort of keyboard. There was no indication why but I suspect that the answer might just have been because he could.

Hogarth was backed by the most studious bunch of musicians I have seen in a very long time. Lead guitarist Steve Rothery very much reminded me of my secondary school headmaster! They were also the most hi-tech band I’ve seen in a while too. The keyboard player was rocking a Mac Pro while I’m pretty certain that Rothery was connected to mission control and coordinating the latest Space-X launch between songs!

And the songs. Well they played a good selection of Hogarth era tunes including a several from the excellent latest record. They then came on for two encores during which Hogarth implored us to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand up” (he was right) before ending with Garden Party. Here’s to the next 34 years!

The Amazons, Reading Hexagon, 10th February 2018 – I’m getting too old for this!

A year or so ago I discovered Reading band The Amazons and really loved their music. So when I heard that they were going to be playing a homecoming gig at the Hexagon in Reading I had to go. Tickets went on sale August 2017 and were either seated in the balcony or standing downstairs. I love live music but I have reached the age where I won’t stand for long periods any more, so I elected to get a seat in the balcony.

A week ago I got out my ticket for the gig and my heart sank. It very clearly said “General Admission” on it. In other words – standing. I still have no idea how I managed to screw this up so badly but there it was. So last night I went along to the Hexagon to see The Amazons and stood for the duration. That said I wasn’t willing to also stand for what could be a couple of dodgy support bands so I got to the venue just before I knew The Amazons would be on.

I had feared that I would be the oldest person in the place but that fear was unfounded as it turned out. Myself and all the other old people formed a line around the back of the auditorium and let the drunk students get on with their stuff in front of us. They were certainly “enthusiastic” and interesting to watch, although I’d have perhaps liked to have been a little further away from the action. What seemed to be happening would be that somehow they would clear a large space in which a couple of inebriated youths would dance before there was a massive bundle like a playground game of British Bulldog. This continual expanding and contracting had the effect of pushing the old fogies further and further away from the stage.

One of the great things about new bands is they have virtually no material to play and so it was last night. By the time the lads had rattled through their first album and a couple of covers they had managed to fill an hour and a quarter. Even I can stand for that length of time!

What was that? You want to know what the music was like? You see here’s the thing, by the end of the third track my ears were buzzing so much that I couldn’t make out much at all. I know that they played Black Magic, Junk Food Forever, Palace and most of the rest of the album but it was just a fuzzy mass of noise. Part of that is the acoustics in the Hexagon which are right up there with Wembley Arena for awful sound. It’s also because it was just so loud that my ears couldn’t take it.

So, to recap. The Amazons are great. The Hexagon is awful as a music venue. I’m getting too old for this!

Writefest 2017

According to the blurb Progress Theatre’s Writefest is in its 12th year but previous incarnations have passed us by. The idea is that six local authors write a short (c. 20 minutes) play and all are shown in one evening . It’s an interesting idea and one that means that if you don’t like one of the plays there is bound to be another along in a minute that you do like. We went to see if that was true last Thursday.

The six plays were very different, even if there were themes that were similar. For example political unrest, people who are different than us and Brexit all made their way into the offerings in one way or another. The sets were minimal just a chair or a table in order to allow the stage to be set quickly between each one and some of the actors were shared too.

In terms of the plays themselves it was a real mixed bag. The evening started strongly with “A Little Nibble” which told the story of a good Samaritan who was brought home by the person she helped only to discover that they were a zombie and wanted to eat her. Next up was “Pen” which while the idea was sound – that memories stored in the cloud are lost in the event of a disaster and paper is forever – but, for me, this one didn’t really work and wasn’t a very strong story.

The first half ended with “The Last Bus” which I think was probably my favourite of the evening. This showed a couple who were waiting to catch the last bus out of Pergatory which was being shut down. Nicely acted and a good idea.

The second half started with “If it be now” which was my least favourite of the lot mainly because it was a bit of a mess. What went on, I think, was that a couple were planning to kill someone who seemed to be stalking them after the wife of the couple had an affair with him a few year previously. It could also have been that the wife was setting up the husband but this wasn’t clear. It also came to an abrupt end and nobody seemed quite sure if it had ended or not.

Next up was “Buried” about a man struggling with his sexuality and hiding the fact that he really wanted to be a woman despite getting married and having children. This was done by having his inner voice played by another actor trying to guide him to do what he wanted rather than what society demanded. I would hope that this is an outdated concept but maybe it’s not.

And finally “Fairy Tails”- one that wasn’t set in the here and now as it was a fantasy of three, well I’m not sure what they were, who snapped the tails of fairies to make calls and ended up killing one of them. It was actually better than I have made it sound.

It was an interesting evening and there were some interesting ideas there but I am not sure that 20 minutes is enough time to give the subjects that some tried to cover justice. Also some left just a little too much to the imagination (or maybe I just suffer from a lack of it?).

The best bit in the whole evening though was when an audience member behind us, in a voice that they clearly thought was a whisper but really wasn’t, said to their partner “NICE COFFEE”. I spent several minutes following that suppressing a giggle!

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.

Inside of Reading Gaol

Ballad of Reading Gaol

When I told people that I was going to take a tour around the Reading Prison the general question was “why?” My response is that other than Porridge and on news reports I haven’t been into a prison – not having the pleasure of being at Her Majesty’s pleasure and all that! It’s just not something that you get the opportunity to do normally.

When the Reading Prison closed in 2013 there was a lot of debate about what should be done with it, a conclusion to which has yet to be reached. The buildings are grade II listed and part of Reading Abbey lies underneath it, including (maybe), the grave of King Henry I, inevitably under the car park, so it can’t be ripped down and replaced with flats fortunately. So while the debate rages on the prison has been opened up for a couple of months for an art exhibition and for guided tours.

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I think the first thing to state about the place and this might be stating the obvious but it is pretty grim. This is partly due to the buildings dating back to the Victorian era and the warren type nature of the place. When it first opened every prisoner had their own cell. This is not as great as it sounds as prisoners weren’t allowed to communicate with anyone else, at all, ever. Breaking this rule got Reading Prison’s most famous occupant, Oscar Wilde, two weeks in an isolation cell as punishment. This was a cell in the basement of the prison that had no light whatsoever. They were fed bread and water twice a day and that was it. I spent a few seconds in the closed room and that was enough for me, it can’t have done much for the mental state of those who spent longer.

The main body of the prison looks just like it does on Porridge long corridors with cell doors off each side and netting strung between the two sides of each corridor. The cells themselves were, of course, tiny. The picture is taken from inside Wilde’s cell. Clearly the fixtures and fittings have been updated since his time.

Inside Oscar Wilde's Cell at Reading Gaol

It was an interesting experience to see a prison up close and some more than others will have deserved to have spent time in Reading but it cannot have been a comfortable experience during the days of no communications. Now we wait to see how the building is repurposed but still retains its character – that is going to be an interesting challenge.

Reading Museum Stores, Heritage Open Days 2015

It’s time once again for the annual Heritage Open Days when interesting places all over the country open their doors as payback for public money received.

Last year I went into the Reading Abbey, which is normally closed to visitors, and this year I went to the Reading Museum stores. Here are held all the exhibits that there isn’t room for in the museum itself. We only saw one floor of the stores but I was told that the ground floor held larger objects including several vehicles including a fire engine.

The tour started with a presentation explaining the work of the museum service and how they go about cataloguing all the items. You can see the fruits of the museum’s database on their website. The topics section is a good way to explore without having to know what the collection holds.

We next moved into the storage space itself starting by looking at a number of objects related to Reading Abbey. It was fascinating to see objects that were so well preserved, particularly when you look at how well the abbey itself isn’t preserved!

I was really impressed with how much thought had been put in by the staff to draw out relevant and interesting objects from the collection and how much freedom we were given to wander between the racking and inspect items held there. The racking (and the objects, obviously) were clearly of some pride!

We also had a talk on the maintaining of the collection which is a bit more complex than just a bit of light dusting, especially when it comes to things such as taxidermy, something of which the museum seems to have a reasonable amount of.

Once again it was a fascinating way to spend and hour and a half visiting somewhere that normally you wouldn’t get to see. As it turns out the stores aren’t entirely off limits, you can make arrangements to go to look at specific things, but it is only on days like this where you get such a guided tour.

I’m looking forward to what will be on offer next year.

My name is Derek and I am a Fish

30 years ago I went to what was then the Apollo theatre in Oxford to see Marillion. This was during the Fugazi tour when they were still in their ascendancy and Fish wasn’t writing songs like Lavender.

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I remember the beginning of the gig very clearly. The set had a raised stepped gantry in the middle of the stage at the top of which was housed a white circle of what turned out to be paper on a frame. This was backlit silhouetting Fish behind it and then of course as the music hit a crescendo and he leapt through. Very theatrical and great fun. It was a good gig.

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Wind forward 30 years and I am in Reading’s Sub89 club waiting for Fish to appear. This time there weren’t any theatrics unless you count braving the crowd and coming to sing amongst us, as you can sort of see from the dark picture above.

The set list was predominately made up of tracks from the latest “A Feast Of Consequences” which was good because that was what I had practiced and the reason I had booked a ticket in the first place. Between each track Fish told a story or pulled down the christmas decorations above him. Initially this was just pointing them out but then they started coming away and more and more followed! There were two themes in the stories: inequality and war which were also reflected in the songs showing that he hasn’t lost his sense of right and wrong over the years.

For the encore we were treated to Incubus from Marillion’s Fugazi which completed a circle for me as that was also played all those years ago in 1984.

Reading Abbey, Heritage Open Days 2014

Once a year places of historic interest that wouldn’t normaly be open to the public throw open their doors for Heritage Open Days. I read somewhere that these places are obliged to do so annually as part of the conditions of government/lottery funding, although I can’t find any evidence to back that statement up. Either way it is great as you get to visit places that would otherwise not be accessible.

Reading Abbey is a great example of this. Closed four years ago when it became too dangerous to allow public access this is now the only way you get to visit. Actually this was a lot more than simply a tour of the abbey as this encompassed the whole of the Reading abbey quarter, something that I didn’t even know existed until our guide, Matthew Williams, manager of the Reading Museum, took us round.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at what is left of the abbey but it covered a huge area and cost a fortune when it was built in 1121. Much of it is now under other more modern buildings, such as the prison, also a listed building. It also shaped the layout of the rest of the town too as London Street was built as a new road leading to the abbey with Broad Street and Friar Street being added at the same time.

The tour also touched on the difficulties of managing the upkeep of the ruins and the surrounding area. For example the wall that runs around St Laurence Church has been in a poor state for as long as I can remember. In fact Matthew told us that the scaffolding holding up the wall has been there for forty years and should also be listed! The issue in this case is not simply one of money but of conflicting priorities. The wall is being forced back by trees that are planted close to it but the trees also have a preservation order and in law have the same status as the wall. Simply put you cannot make a change to one that will affect the other. Classic Catch 22.

With Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries Reading abbey was hard hit and much of the stone was sold off leaving only a few buildings intact. Now the abbey is in a poor state and the flint walls that once would have been lined with limestone are now crumbling. With the help of lottery funding the grounds could be reopened to the public in four to five years time, so dig deep! In the interim the intention is to add much more information around the town signposting the areas of significance. This should also tie into the opening of the prison site, the use of which is still being decided. Before that is done I am hoping that we can get to see inside it as is because it is said to be like you see in the TV show Porridge. Maybe that’s a tour for next year’s heritage open days…

Is Reading Ready for ReadyBike?

So Reading has jumped on the local bike hire bandwagon with the launch of ReadyBike (surely it should be ReadiBike?).

This is a scheme similar to the one so popular in London where a number of bike stations have been placed around the town and you and pick-up and drop-off from these. Coverage seems quite wide extending out as far as Thames Valley and Green Parks, which makes sense.

Judging by the picture below the service is already proving popular but, for me, it has one flaw.

The scheme offers two rental models – pay by the day or an annual subscription, where you get lower day rates. Both of these are fine but crucially you cannot just turn up on any day having registered, grab a bike and go – you must have nominated the day you want to ride in advance. For a casual user such as myself this just doesn’t work. If I turn up and find it is chucking it down with rain I wouldn’t want to ride. Similarly I might get to the station and think I’ll grab a bike on the spur of the moment but it appears you cannot do that.

Having spoken to the company that runs the scheme the restriction placed on the service is by Reading Borough Council rather than the operator. Either way it is a shame and I hope that it will change over time to become more flexible like it is in London.

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Bikes are clearly the in thing in Reading right now as the Reading Bike Kitchen has opened up in the last month. This is a not for profit organisation that provides space, tools and help for people that want to mend their own bikes.

When the chain broke on my bike recently I could have taken it into a high street chain for repair but elected to go to RBK instead which for £4 and the help of Dave I was able to fix it myself. I came away with a mended bike and a sense of satisfaction that I wouldn’t have got elsewhere.

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Bikes are clearly the way to go in Reading!