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Archive for November, 2010

Leslie Neilson

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

It is with sadness that I hear today that Leslie Neilson has passed away. He will of course always be remembered for his brilliant comic timing in classics such as Police Squad and the Naked Gun films.

To me though, he will always be Commander John Adams the leading man in one of my all time favourite films, Forbidden Planet.

Released in 1956, Forbidden Planet was an updating of Shakespeare’s Tempest, set in Space. It featured cutting edge special effects courtesy of the Disney Studio animators and the first ever all electronic musical score in a film.

Despite being over 50 years old, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable film full of wonderful and impressive sets, fantastic ideas, slightly creaky space ships, The Krell and Monsters from the Id and of course the first appearance of Robby the Robot.

Abram Games & The Festival of Britain Emblem

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The instantly recognisable emblem for the Festival of Britain was the product of a design competition organised by the Arts Council and the Council for Industrial Design in 1949.

Of the twelve invited entrants, Abram Games was felt to best address the brief which called for a symbol that could be universally applied to all official products and documents.

Games’s winning design incorporated a profile of Britannia above a four pointed star which represented the points of a compass, and illustrated the truly national aspirations of the festival. The addition of a loop of red, white and blue bunting hanging below the star and enclosing the date 1951, was intended to reflect “the summer of gaiety and good looks” that the brief specifically asked for.

When his winning entry was announced, Games was already a highly respected graphic artist, having produced over 100 of the most memorable posters during the Second World War in his role as Official War Posters Artist.

His official site is here where some excellent examples of his work can be found.

Name Change

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Thanks to a suggestion from my old mate Wong, its goodbye to Wharfer J and hello to Joe Bloggs…    Much better.

Stanley Spencer

November 13, 2010 2 comments

The paintings below are all self portraits by one of Britain’s truly great artists. Ever since a friend of mine took me to see the Burghclere chapel in the late 1980’s when I first came to London, I have been fascinated by this intriguing and unassuming man.

The first image was painted in 1914 when Spencer was 23/24 (he was born in 1891) and shows us a young man with a proud face, full of confidence sitting before a dark, a nondescript background. This piece was completed not long before he enlisted, serving in Macedonia with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Despite the 22 year gap between the first and second portrait (from 1936), the face looking at us seems little changed. It maybe slightly thinner, the clothes more ragged and the chin unshaven, but it is recognisably the same man. Spencer’s lifelong interest in background and texture is also starting to come to the fore, with both skin and the background seeming more alive.

The third image is from three years later, 1939 and the transformation is striking. A different, slightly angled pose and a greater interest in his surroundings as evidenced by the paint board, the brush and the folded sheets. Add to this a far more healthy looking, almost chubby face, combed hair, the suit and tie and the spectacles, and this painting stands apart from the other three, as depicting a man of success, rather than the archetypal struggling artist.

Finally the last image from 1959. Twenty years after the previous one and completed the same year as the artists untimely death at the age of 68. The colours in this image are far softer, the wallpaper and the skin are painted with Spencer’s characteristic almost obsessive eye for detail. A man finally more content with who he was maybe, with almost the hint of a smile.

He was a contradictory man by all accounts. Low key in his outward appearance to the world: polite, small in stature and generally scruffy, often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold, as he pushed his old pram carrying his canvas and easel around Cookham. He was nonetheless a highly emotional person, whose life was full of complicated relationships and an overwhelming belief in Christianity that brought out the eccentric him and drove him to produce some of the most instantly recognisable works of the twentieth century.

Here are two of my favourite of his works. Both are faith based images, but relocated to Cookham, both show his joyous, rounded style and love of colour and life and both are idiosyncratic to say the least. Above is The Resurrection: Cookham from 1926 and  below St. Francis and the Birds from 1935.

As Mad as Hell

November 10, 2010 2 comments

I just love this…. I have it as a sample on a breaks track somewhere and now I know it’s a speech by Howard Beal (played by Peter Finch) from the 1976 film Network.

This style of animation is known as Kinetic Typography, and Aaron Leming has done a fine job with this effort…

As an aside, the words and overall sentiment are alarmingly relevant to todays economic climate wouldn’t you say?

November 1971 – A fantastic month for music

November 9, 2010 2 comments

In  November 1971, I was too young to realise that three of my favourite albums of all time had just been released within three weeks of each other. On the 8th, Led Zeppelin released their untitled fourth album, on the 12th Genesis released their third album, Nursery Cryme and two weeks later on the 26th, Yes released their fourth album, Fragile.

Led Zep IV, needs little introduction or discussion from me: Rock and Roll, Stairway to Heaven, Going to California and When the Levee Breaks are all so magnificent and instantly recognisable (even from their opening bars) that I think further justification or explanation is unnecessary.

Four days after Led Zep IV hit the shops,  Genesis’s third album was released to an expectant audience. Their previous offering, Trespass had seen the band move away from the shorter pop song format and Nursery Cryme, a rich musical journey through a tapestry of Olde English life, continued with these longer themed pieces. This was also the first album to feature the classic Genesis line up of Collins, Rutherford, Banks, Hackett and Gabriel.

Referencing faux Victorian tales (Harold the Barrel and Return of the Giant Hogweed) and Greek classics, (The Fountain of Salmacis) the songs are certainly not to everyone’s tastes, but when I first heard them about 7 or 8 years after the release, I was entranced by their intelligence and finely crafted musicianship.

Tony Banks’s keyboard playing is brought to the fore and works to dazzling effect on the album’s masterpiece, The Musical Box, where Peter Gabriel’s closing plea “why don’t you touch me touch me, touch me, Now, Now, Now” still sends shivers down my spine.

Then at the end of the month, the mighty Yes released Fragile, their second album of 1971 (The Yes Album had been released to very high acclaim earlier in February)

This very fine record was the first to feature Rick Wakeman and, in a similar way to Tony Banks on Nursery Cryme, showcased his keyboard talents and new electronic sounds to full effect. Check out two of the greatest tunes ever committed to vinyl, Roundabout and Heart of the Sunrise, to hear an incredibly tight band in total control and enjoying every minute of it. Progressive indeed…..

It’s also interesting to reconsider the artwork of the wonderful gatefold sleeves. All three have images which whether by chance or design, perfectly reflected their contents. The stripped down, no nonsense rock and roll of Led Zep is echoed by the odd photo of the old man collecting sticks set against the peeling wallpapered background of buildings awaiting demolition. Paul Whitehead’s surreal painting of the nine year old Cynthia Jane holding her mallet high on an endless lawn, mirrors the literary symbolism and imagery of Genesis whilst the escapism and technical perfection of Yes, is exemplified by Roger Dean’s stunning artwork, the first of many covers that would firmly affix the bands image in many people’s minds for decades to come.

I guess I was obsessed with all three of these bands by the end of the 1970’s and these records have all given me endless hours of listening pleasure ever since. One could easily argue that both Genesis and Yes would subsequently release much more coherent records (Selling England by the Pound and Close to the Edge to name but two) however in terms of a barometer of how creative English “rock” music was during the early 1970’s, I think these three will do nicely.

You have every right to disagree with any of the statements above of course…. after all, that’s what the comment box is for below…..

Genesis – Nursery Cryme

Yes – Fragile

There’s no Led Zep on Spotify…..

Kennington

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

After a short stint working in Battersea (Do Not Alight Here), I now find myself in an interesting area halfway between the Elephant & Castle and Kennington tube stations.

This mainly residential area is bounded by the Walworth Road to the east and Newington Butts to the west and is made up of a mix of Victorian terraces and mansion blocks with neat workshops in cobbled yards behind. There is also some rather stylish post war infill housing, with their steeply pitched roofs and finally a new surge of large developments of shiny contemporary apartments.

Our new office is in Iliffe yard, a real throwback to Victorian England. The little cobbled street seems so unchanged by progress, that I wouldn’t be surprised to find a period drama being filmed here one morning. In fact the whole area is a real surprise to me and has a totally different feel to what I might have expected being this close to the urban nightmare of the Elephant & Castle roundabout’s.

Exiting from Kennington tube (a much nicer way to get to work than through the mess that surrounds the Elephant station) I noticed a small red plaque between the lifts, and as I read it, I realised that quite by chance, it linked back to my recent post about The London Underground and Charles Holden’s southern extension of the Northern line (see my post here). The plague reads:

Kennigton Station, Listed as a Building of National Significance.

Architect: T Phillip Figgis 1890.

This unique station building is the sole surface survivor of the world’s first underground electric line, the City and South London Railway, that opened in 1890 and which ran from the City to Clapham. Although the interior of the ticket hall was modified in the 1920’s when the line was rebuilt and extended, the exterior is largely original. This is dominated by the large dome which housed the machinery to operate the lifts. The station was one of the first public buildings in England to have a lift, which was essential to transport passengers between street level and the new deep level tube platforms.

As I have said on other posts, I still get a strange thrill when I find things that connect together.

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