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Gil Scott Heron

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve just learned that Gil Scott Heron died last Friday after falling ill on his current tour. He was only 62.

He was known as the Godfather of Rap but disapproved of the title, preferring to describe what he did as “bluesology” – a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and jazz, all shot through with a piercing social conscience and strong political messages, tackling issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.

I first came across his music in the mid Eighties when I was at Leeds doing my architecture degree. One of the guys I shared a house with was a huge fan and I too, was soon caught up in his smart, street-wise poetry and soulful tuneage…

We went to see him play live at the University and although I remember it as being a strange gig (I think he was a bit too pissed or stoned to be convincing) he was nevertheless a huge force on stage, almost mesmerizing.

Having written far too many excellent songs to list, there are a few that have always stood out for me. Firstly the full fat, 12 minute version of “B” Movie, in which with unbelievable lyrical dexterity he convincingly suggests that the only reason Ronald the Ray-Gun became the 40th President of the United States, was that John Wayne was already dead. At the end of the track is a fantastic, almost hypnotic chant, repeating over and over “This aint really your life, aint really your life, aint really aint nothing but a movie”. An unbelievable song. The other two are of course The Bottle and The Revolution will not be Televised, both again very lyrically powerful yet musically very different, and both undisputed classics.

Having struggled over the years with various addictions, illness and time in prison, it seemed that he had finally managed to sort himself out and his last record, the stunning “I’m New Here” was a very strong return to form.

I had always intended to go and see him play live again, give him another chance so to speak. Sadly though, I will now never get the chance. He will be sadly missed.

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Mordecai Mole the Building Thief

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

ArchDaily sent me this beautifully illustrated book today, from which the drawings below are taken.I know little more than the book’s title and the web sites own description which simply tells me it was written and illustrated by Julian Hector and is the story of Mordecai the mole, who steals iconic buildings from various skylines… although why he feels the need to do this, is not made clear…

And why should it be, as the wonderfully stylised and cleverly simplified illustrations more than speak for themselves. Very nice indeed…

The End of the Space Shuttle Program

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Another anniversary that I missed recently was that of the final flight of Discovery which as part of Mission STS133 (STS stands for Space Transportation System, the programme’s official name) spent its final 14 days in service between February 24th and March 9th.

2011, in fact marks the end of the entire Shuttle programme and by the end of this year all the remaining vehicles will be retired after 30 years of service.

In all six shuttles were built. Enterprise was only designed to test the craft’s ability to land (after taking off attached to the top of a Jumbo Jet) and was never actually designed to be space worthy. The remaining five were all fully equipped to go into orbit and of these five Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour remain in service. The other two were tragically lost whilst in use, Challenger shortly after take off in January 1986 and Columbia during re-entry in February 2003.

The concept of a returnable space craft was initially developed in the early 1970’s, with the first test flights almost a decade later in the early 1980’s. I can clearly remember the excitement of these initial launches, watching these ungainly shuttles struggling to leave the atmosphere strapped to a huge rusty looking rocket and then landing after the mission was over on what I always thought were worryingly small wheels… And over their thirty years of service, even if the Shuttles have not exactly revolutionised space travel as had originally been predicted, their contribution to space exploration has been unquestionable.

From the early Spacelab experiments, and servicing the Mir and the amazing, ever expanding International Space Station, through to crucial work correcting optical defects in the Hubble telescope, the ability to send astronauts up into space, carry out set tasks and bring them home in a controlled way, I think has been of huge benefit to Science and mankind’s development.

So the end of an era, sad but maybe not entirely unsurprising in these cash strapped times. The total cost of the shuttle programme by the end of its final mission has been estimated at about $180 Billion, which when divided by the roughly 140 missions equates to $1.2 Billion a flight….

But regardless of the huge costs involved, I have a feeling that a second space race is imminent with new fuels and technologies, and new countries getting involved. Our future lies in the stars, and I for one am looking forward to seeing how the next generation of space vehicles develop.

Sewage Pipe Hotel….

May 17, 2011 1 comment

I came across this fantastic idea recently..

It’s like camping, but instead of canvas, you get to sleep beneath concrete in the form of  large repurposed sewage pipes. Brilliant.

The site is near Linz in Austria and is called Dasparkhotel. Each room has an original art work on the back wall, there’s a small rooflight and storage for your stuff is under the bed. Showers, cafe and internet are provided via local public facilities in and around the park.

And if you’re wondering how much it costs to stay, this is a quote from their site…

“Because we obtain sanitation, breakfast and other hotel facilities from existing public infrastructure, it is possible for us to work with the very simple, user-friendly “pay as you wish” system. A night in dasparkhotel costs just as much as you can afford or want to pay.”

Even more brilliant. Surprisingly I’ve never been to Austria, so I’ll see you in Linz…

Quietly Famous – The Watermans Arms on the Isle of Dogs.

May 12, 2011 60 comments

There’s a pub not far from us that closed down around Christmas time, which in itself was fairly unremarkable. I remember reading that about 30 pubs a week close down nationally, so we just assumed this was one more casualty of the smoking ban and the extortionate price of beer and that the site would soon become another block of flats.

To be honest, it was an odd place. It had a huge garden that never seemed to get any sun and the few times we went, the place was empty. Then there was the large bare room at the side which when we first moved here 10 years or so ago, was home to an Indian restaurant, now long since gone. All in all not really a place you would rush back to.

So imagine my surprise when it re-opened a few weeks ago, and it would appear from this planning document that they have high hopes for it…

Anyway I thought no more about it until, looking for something else online, I came across a number of references to The Waterman Arms, and it seems that 50 years ago, it was the in place to be…

In the early 1960’s, a certain Daniel Farson decided to set up a “singing pub” on the Isle of Dogs. I have to admit I didn’t recognise his name, but Wikipedia tells me that Dan Farson was a very popular TV personality during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, hosting his own chat show and producing a number of other well received programmes on the fledgling commercial TV network. Latterly he was also a respected writer, publishing in excess of 20 books.

Infamous throughout the gay Soho scene of the time, he decided he needed a change and moved out to the East End, living in Limehouse for some time before buying The Waterman Arms in 1962, because he thought it might be “fun to run a pub”. Having fallen in love with the local area and all its characters (so much so that he made a one hour TV special about East End pubs called “Time Gentlemen Please”) he decided he was going to indulge his love of Music Hall and create his own Variety venue on the banks of the River Thames.

For a number of reasons (boredom, no one really wanting a Music Hall revival and the “scene” moving on to the next place, being just 3 of them) the venture only lasted a few years, but in that time anyone who was anyone took a car over to the Isle of Dogs and had a drink or two with Dan: Francis Bacon, Kenneth Williams, Jacques Tati, Shirley Bassey, William Burroughs, Clint Eastwood, Judy Garland, Groucho Marx, Frankie Howerd and Brian Epstein are all said to have been regular visitors to this unassuming Victorian building whenever they were in town. It must have been quite an evening if Messers Howerd and Williams were on form… (it definitely feels like there’s a film in this story somewhere…)

Anyway, as is so often with this blog, another random fact added to the “weight of connectivity” that persuaded me to write this post, as I read recently in a local paper that Jools Holland used to walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel (or the Pipe as he called it) to play piano at the Waterman Arms in the mid 1970’s, which by that time had developed a reputation as a place for great Jazz.

One final connection is that having looked into all this on the net, it seems that The Watermans Arms also had a starring role in one of the best British gangster films of all time, The Long Good Friday, as it was in this very building that Bob Hoskins utters the immortal line “Walk to the car Billy, or I’ll blow your spine off”

So it would appear that my local is something of a landmark. The new proposals for this Grade II listed building include changing its name to “The Great Eastern” which (as far as I can tell) will be its third incarnation, being The Newcastle Arms for the first 100 or so years of its life, before Dan Farson changed its name and made it famous for a while.

Who knows, maybe this new refurbishment will kick start its fame all over again, and the celebs will come flocking once again to the Isle of Dogs (Christ, I hope not) ….

Spomenik

May 10, 2011 2 comments

There is a new book out by Jan Kempenaers in which he documents a 3 year journey around former Yugoslavia, photographing some of the most amazing sculptures and monuments I have ever seen…

As I understand it, the former president of Yugoslavia, President Tito felt the need to honour the victims of the post war political purges that befell many of the newly Communist countries. As a result of this need for reconciliation and recognition he commissioned the cream of Yugoslavian architects and sculptors to build a series of Spomenik (which I believe means “monument”) across Yugoslavia.

These huge monuments are generally made of concrete or stone, and a few have metal adornments designed in. They were generally located on or near the sites of conflict, concentration camps and other atrocities and as such are now to be found throughout Croa­tia, Ser­bia, Slove­nia and Bosnia.

In Jan Kempenaers book there are almost 30 of these strange and wonderful structures. Today the names of the designers and the structures themselves are largely forgotten with most of them appearing to be falling quietly into disrepair, staining slowly and degrading into the landscape.

Even so, they still posses a power and a beauty that to me, seems entirely befitting of their original intention.

Happy Birthday

May 4, 2011 4 comments

Today I’m in celebratory mode as it’s exactly 1 year ago today that I posted my first blog…

Much has happened over the past 12 months to arouse my interests and stir my creative writing side, and for that I’m very grateful to my lovely girlfriend and all my super special friends in and around this wonderful old city.

Visits to this site have increased significantly over the last few months with April’s total reaching 2948 hits… that’s very nearly 3000 or 100 a day (which quite frankly astounds me).

I’ve also received encouraging and complimentary comments on some of my posts from afar afield as Russia, Slovenia, Italy and the States.

So on the basis that all this signifies a growing (or at least a continued) interest in my musings, I shall endeavour to keep writing about stuff I like for at least another 12 months.

Thank you for tuning in….

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