Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pip Pyle, RIP

There are probably quite a few blogs this week bearing the above title. Let me (belatedly) join them.

For those that don't know, Pip Pyle was the drummer in "Hatfield and the North", a combo from the mid-70s - see my early blogs about Hatfield and "The Rotters Club".

Of the tributes which I've just read, maybe the best was from Jakko, who played with Pip in REM (not the famous one) in the early 80s. There is a recording of theirs circulating around the 'net which I downloaded months ago but have never heard. Maybe it's about time.

As the tributes make clear, Pip was more than just a drummer. He wrote very amusing lyrics for the Hatfields as well as contributing some ace tunes, all of which hint at the fact that "he was a character", as Jakko recalls.

Looks like there'll be a Pyle binge on the stereo this weekend.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Toothache and detectives

It's funny how things can turn around in a moment. This time last week I was feeling very sorry for myself, as I had a mysterious toothache which got worse and worse as the week wore on. The toothache was accompanied by general malaise, and I was getting fairly irritated by Thursday. Friday morning I woke up with a distinct lack of pain. I had arranged a visit to the dentist for the morning in an attempt to discover the source of the pain (I have a distant appointment for redoing root canal work on one tooth, so the pain wasn't too unexpected), but the dentist was unable to ascertain exactly where the pain had come from. Following the prime directive of doctors ("Above all, do no harm"), she elected not to do anything and wait for developments.

Anyway, after being in a terrible state on Thursday afternoon (forgetting all manner of things, including yoghurt in the fridge at work, and not filling my moped with petrol), Friday saw me as a different person, a new man. Isn't it wonderful when one isn't feeling pain and anguish.

Today two books which I had ordered arrived in the post, both written by Peter Robinson and in the DCI Banks series. One book was a collection of the first three Banks novels, and the other was the latest installment in the ongoing series. So far, I've only read the first book in the collection, "Gallows View". Judging by the amount of time which it took me to read the story, it's neither long nor deep. In fact, it's very much the first book in the series, and shows how much Robinson and his stories have improved and deepened over the years. The book introduces some of the characters which are still there, fourteen books on, and it's interesting to read how they started out, somewhat younger than how they are at the moment.

Whilst "Gallows View" is well-written, it's also lacking depth and length. Somehow I doubt that I would have been interested enough to carry on reading the series had this been the first Banks book that I read. For what it's worth, the first book which I did read was the tenth in the series, "In a dry season", which was very much a pivotal book in terms of both its plot and its characters. Since then I've been going both forwards and backwards in the series, and definitely prefer everything which has come after IADS to what had gone before.

I've also found a few mistakes in the books, something which has never happened before. When I pointed them out in emails to the author, he complained about his copy editors. As one of the mistakes required familiar knowledge with the series' back story, no off-the-shelf copy editor would have noticed; I'd be pleased to do the job for him.

Reading crime novels is only a comparatively recent trend for me; it probably started with the conjunction of two events - watching "Morse" on television, and the dearth of science fiction books which I liked. Whilst I bought most of the Morse canon, I was never too happy with the books. Apart from the similarity of some of them (Morse always got ill and frequently was hospitalised), I didn't like the patronising tone of the author. When I discovered Ian Rankin (by virtue of his mentioning Richard Thompson and Van der Graaf Generator songs in his books), I felt that I was much more at home with John Rebus. But after ten or twelve Rebus books, I realised that the crime part was taking second place to the social milieu of the stories; I wasn't complaining, but I did prefer that my detectives do a bit of detection instead of letting things happen to them. I should point out that Rebus' colleague, Siobhean Clarke, is a much better detective than Rebus is, and it will be interesting to see when Rankin takes the hint and phases Rebus out in favour of Clarke.

So it was somewhat fortuitous that I came across Peter Robinson and DCI Alan Banks.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rare "Liege and Lief" outtakes

Someone turned up on the Sandy Denny mailing list a few days ago with a pointer to "rare L&L outtakes", such as this one ("Crazy Man Michael").

As I wrote there,
Once I heard CMM, then I knew what I was listening to. These 'outtakes' were passed around several years ago, but as far as my ears can tell, they're not really outtakes, but rather early mixes of the final versions. For example, CMM is missing Richard's Leslie'd guitar but otherwise is the released version. I'm not too sure about "Farewell, farewell"; it sounds like a slightly different mix, but it does contain all the component parts of the version we know.

One interesting thing: the disc which I have runs a bit faster and Sandy's voice is a bit higher than the versions recently posted. Whilst this can be done digitally, I sorely doubt that anyone would actually do so. I think that someone had a reel-to-reel which was running a bit fast, and that this was the source of the disc which I have, whereas the versions which have just turned up came from someone with a reel-to-reel running at the correct speed.

I don't think that anyone is trying to impress us with long lost alternate takes; neither do I think that someone has created these with studio trickery. It's similar to many of the Beatles' bootlegs with alternate versions: they're simply the final versions missing one or more instruments which were overdubbed at the end.

It actually says a lot about Joe Boyd's production techniques: it sounds like he would record the whole band at once - including vocals - and then add on whatever instruments needed to be added, normally Richard. The 'genuine alternative' takes of 'Quiet Joys of Brotherhood' on the remastered L&L show that Sandy would be recorded along with everyone else. Check out Richard's playing on 'Million Dollar Bash': he contributes wonderful runs when everybody else is singing, but when it's his verse, he only plays a simple rhythm part.

How I enjoy playing the part of the musical detective! I bought Joe Boyd's autobiography, "White Bicycles" some months ago, but refrained from commenting about it. I was quite disappointed by the book, as I expected to read more about Boyd's studio technique and what is was like working with Fairport/Sandy/Nick Drake. Instead I got to read more that I will ever want to read about the Incredible String Band. The early part (Boyd in America) was interesting, both in the information itself and its novelty to me, whereas the second half (Boyd in Britain) could have been better. I imagine that a fair number of people who bought the book were also looking for more information on the young Richard Thompson or Nick Drake than they actually received.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Graduation show

Exactly one calendar month after the Bar Mitzva show, it was the turn of the elder brothers and sisters to celebrate: last night, the high schoolers put on their traditional show to celebrate the graduation of yet another class. My daughter is one of the graduating youngsters.

The basis of the show is always the same: each child (sorry, young adult) in the graduating class is played/imitated by one of the high schoolers in a lower class (in other words, a 16-17 year old will play the part of the 18 year old); the plot is normally non-existent, but the text is full of jokes about the most obvious characteristics of the graduates. These characteristics are normally the more negative ones. Only the graduates themselves understand all of the jokes; we, as parents, might understand upto 75%, and the general audience's understanding varies on a scale of 0-50%. Oh yes, and there's always at least one dance scene which has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, but enables all the high school children to participate.

Even though understanding the jokes may be limited, everybody enjoys themselves, and I do think that the technical level of these shows is improving yearly.

Each class spends a vast amount of time together, maybe not as much as a corresponding class would have done thirty or forty years ago, but more so than say my class at grammar school. What is a class? It's all the children that are born on the kibbutz during one calendar year. Last year's graduating class was 20, which is very large for Tzora; this year's class numbers 14, and next year's is about the same number. My son's class numbers 15, but this is the last of the big classes.

When a child enters first grade, he spends his afterschool hours in a clubroom. The way that things are organised here, the first three grades constitute one group and the second three grades constitute another group. Grade seven is the bar mitzva year, which of course is the crucible for forging a class's identity: they take a name for themselves (normally an animal - for example, my daughter's class is named "the owl group" and my son's "the deer group) and undergo many joint experiences. During the next few years after the bar mitzva, the group's identity tends to fade, although they have one joint activity a week. The group gets resurrected when some of them move out of their parents' houses and live in a communal setting at the beginning of eleventh grade, and to complete things, there is the trip to Poland, exams and the culminating graduation show.

These children have been together in one form or another since they were born, and of course the ties are very strong. A few years ago, they were even stronger, but adolescence does funny things to one's allegiances, and yesterday's friend can be today's stranger, or even enemy.

Unlike the rest of the graduating class, my daughter decided that the army is not for her. Unfortunately, the army was less decided about that, and so it took a vast amount of to-ing and fro-ing until she was able to get a release (a few days ago). Instead, she intends to do a year of national service (for example, volunteering in a hospital), but she has missed the deadline for this year's allocation, so she will be at a loose end for several months.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On a completely different subject, I just checked the Bill Bruford DVD site, and all the copies have now been sold. That didn't take too long.

Fairport Convention presumably played a marathon set last night to close this year's "Fairport's Cropredy Convention". There have been virtually no postings of the FC mailing list the past few days, but no doubt from today onwards I will start to read how wonderful it was. I went to Cropredy five times, including a three year consecutive run (1996-1998); whilst I very much enjoyed those years, I didn't like my final year (2000) so much. My disenchantment is as much to do with my increasing distance from the current Fairport style as it is with the physical arrangements. Actually, it's probably much more to do with the music than anything else; if I were totally gung ho about 75% of the acts appearing, then I could put up with all the inconveniences, but as these days I would probably be interested in maybe 5% of the acts, it's clear that I have nothing to look for at the festival.

What surprises me is how much correspondents seem to enjoy themselves, even though they admit that they don't like some of the acts. Is it so much fun sitting in a field for three days and listening to not always good music? Eating peculiar food? Weather either too hot or too cold? Camping at night and being disturbed by all night sing-a-longs or motorcycle gangs? Maybe it's part of the British experience which I have long left behind.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bruford live DVD from 1979

Wandering around the Internet (as one does), I discovered yesterday that Bill Bruford and his eponymous group from 1979 have a dvd of one of their concerts about to be released. More details are available here . The dvd will be signed by all the participants (Annette Peacock - vocals; Alan Holdsworth - guitar; Dave Stewart - keyboards; Jeff Berlin - bass; Bill Bruford - drums, percussion), and is limited to 500 copies. When I ordered my copy, there were 172 left; checking the page today, I see that only 53 copies are left, so obviously the word is getting around.

I bought their "Feels good to me" album whilst on a trip to Britain in 1982 and very much liked most of the album. The tracks which I didn't like so much are the speedy vibraphone tunes of Bruford, like "Beelzebub" and "Sample and hold"; naturally these are on the dvd. I preferred the slower, dreamier tracks which of course aren't necessarily good concert material. On most of my preferred tracks, Kenny Wheeler played flugelhorn, adding a lovely tone to an exciting base. Wheeler doesn't appear on the dvd, which is probably why the selection is what it is. Incidentally, anybody who wants a transcription of the metrically diverse "Either end of summer" can find it here, along with transcriptions of "Beelzebub" and "Hells Bells".

At the time, I was in mail contact with Dave Stewart, mainly because of his work with Hatfield and then National Health. Since his excellent "Spin" from 1991, he's completely disappeared off the radar, although he was involved with the "new" Hatfield disc from about two years ago which contained live performances from 1973/4. His website hasn't been updated for a long time, and I always wonder what such a talented musician and performer is doing these days to make a living. Hopefully it's not by giving piano lessons (not that this is such a bad thing, but Dave deserves more). It's almost certainly not from royalties.

I have just checked that site's visitors book, and people are still posting entries (the latest is from three days ago), saying how wonderful DS was and why has it been so long since "Spin". DS himself replies to one query (dated 7 April 2006), but limits himself to explaining a "C major 7 over D bass" chord (wouldn't that be an inversion of CMaj9? I like playing such a chord, but with the D on top, not at the bottom). It's fascinating reading that address book - plenty of people write and say how wonderful the music was from the 70s (I quite agree) - but not a peep from Dave himself.

Other than this, not much has been happening in my neck of the woods. It's still very hot and I come home very tired each day from work, even though I haven't necessarily been doing very much.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Eilat activities

We've been home for a few days now, which means that it's about time to update the blog with some of our Eilat activities. It was nearly impossible to write at the hotel; the few computers there were staked out by children early in the morning, and even when I did get the chance to use one, it was impossible to concentrate. Thus my use was mainly confined to seeing what would be broadcast on tv - including the 1956 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

Hiding amongst the foliage

On Sunday, we went to the "Kings' City", an activities centre which apparently cost $70 million. The entrance fee went a long way to recovering this investment. The advance publicity had us understanding that caves had been dug deep under Eilat, and that in these caves the story of the bible was told. Well, as Robert Heinlein once wrote, the best way to lie is to tell the truth ... just not all of the truth. Yes, the exhibit did take place in caves dug under the city, but the story was told in several friezes, which ended abruptly with the building of the pyramids (in other words, not much of the bible).

Other than that, there was a "hall of mirrors" exhibit which was very entertaining (albeit crowded) and one about optical illusions (ditto) - although I may have confused them slightly. The trip normally ends with a boat ride apparently around more biblical exhibits followed by a fifty (sixty? forty?) foot drop; as I have problems with my inner ear and balance, I never go on such circus rides, so I can't say anything about it.

Interesting? Yes. Worth the money? Definitely not.

The next day my son and I went sea diving, not with a snorkel but real diving with air tanks strapped on our backs. The diving centre was about 200 metres from the hotel which of course made access easy. The famous coral reef of Eilat lies just across the road from the hotel and the diving centre, so after receiving instruction and crossing the road, we saw coral and multicolour fish immediately upon entering the water.

This is really two experiences at once: diving and observing the fish. The latter experience was spectacular, although we had seen a 3D film of coral reefs and fish the previous day at the Eilat IMax cinema so it wasn't unexpected. But really being there, watching the fish swim around one's head whilst kneeling on the sea floor is definitely something else. The diving, on the other hand, was definitely unusual and unexpected. I don't know how far down we went - the instructor said that we might go down to 6 metres below sea level - but my ears definitely popped on the way down. There wasn't an airtight seal on my mask because of my moustache, so water frequently trickled in. After maybe 20 minutes I was quite tired of the experience, and my mouth was exceedingly dry, so I was quite pleased when the instructor signalled that it was time to rise to the surface and be unflippered. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of us dressed for the sea.

On Tuesday afternoon we went on a trip to the Eilat hills, driven by a very competent guide in an open jeep. On the way we saw a certain amount of desert fauna and flora, each adapting to the very special conditions that exist (like rainfall once every six years, in which 700 mm rain could fall in two hours - that's about our average annual rainfall). The guide showed us a shrub which basically hibernates all the time until it senses that there is water, whereupon pods open and expose seeds. The guide put one seed on my son's finger and poured a few drops onto the seed. Within seconds, the seed sprouted and began to germinate! This has to be seen to be believed. Talk about making hay while the sun shines - this is one of the most extreme cases of adaptation that I have ever seen.

We ascended a hill which is 750 metres above sea level; from this spot one can see four different countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel - der). The guide might have said that this is the only place in the world from which four countries can be seen - anyone care to contradict him?

The trip ended by the guide taking wood from the jeep and making two fires; on one he boiled tea in a kettle, and on the other he baked pita bread which was then consumed with olive oil, zatar and cream cheese. This also has to be experienced to be believed!

This was definitely worth the money!