16 July 2008

Into the beat

Meme me baby... 

1. Reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter.
2. List 5 songs you like that start with that letter
3. Post them to your journal with these instructions

With a cursing to Psychochicken who gave me the following dictate: I'm going to make life difficult for you and give you I, but you're not allowed the first word to be I.


1. In a gadda da vida (full version) - Iron butterfly
2. (the) invaluable darkness - Dimmu borgir
3. Invitation to the blues - Tom Waits
4. It's a sin - Pet Shop Boys
5. It's my life - Talk Talk

Interior Lulu and Into My Arms were both narrow misses.


12 July 2008

Quick updates

Hello dear readers, a quick update on my wanderings. Visited the Tate Britain and enjoyed the Turners, which Neil had been pushing me to see. Turner is rather good at lighting and stuff :D and there is more to his pics than the early boring scenic ones. Enjoyed the Cannaletto as well, but largely prefer the Tate Modern.
Wandered through the Transport Museum which was good, but didn't seem as good as I remember it. It had a major makeover, and reopened the day I left last year. It's nicely laid out, but I think I preferred the more 'cluttered' approach to the organised layout they have now.
Had a fitting for the wedding suit. My god, what a bloody nightmare. The group has places all over the UK to hire suits from, it isn't computerised, and the concept of hiring from one store and returning to another doesn't seem to have occurred to them. As it's all paper based the stores just dont have records of the other store bookings - ya just wanted to smack them into the 20th (let alone 21st) century.
Brunch with Andrew and some friends of his y'day then had a boozy night with Fran last night. Quite day today methinks.


Hey a picture

I like photos, but hardly ever put anything up. But the lighting and subject matter from my wandering around the other day suggested this one did need to be seen. The clouds are for Psychochicken :)
Oh and I haven't retouched it, yet.


10 July 2008

Gardeners Alert!

For the garden that has everything...
Available here.


9 July 2008

Art, Tate, Beer, Cheese, Coffee

7-8 July

Got back from Glasgow and chilled with Andrew, played Nintendo64 as a tribute to the way we wasted hours of our youth.

It has been raining all day here, but that didn't stop me ambling down (well bus-ing) to the Monmouth Coffee Company to get some beans and a good espress, and then turning the corner and picking up some cheese from Neal's Cheese Yard. Yeah at times I'm predictable. In a continuing re-enactment of most other times I've been here, I then wandered to the Tate Modern.

I like my modern art. I like looking at Kandinsky, Miro,Rothko, Picasso, Mondrian, Metzinger (I particuarly liked the Woman with a Coffee Pot), Klee (who I like a lot), Braque (the darkness, ooohhh nice). I'm not sure why, probably as I don't like art that reflects an image. If I want an image, I'll look at a photo. I've thought about this, and wonder if my interest reflects two linked issues.
Firstly, one of the albums that got me into jazz, and that I found interesting was Brubeck's Time Further Out, with cover art by Miro. The original Time Out album had art by Fujita, which in it's decomposed nature is also typical of the style I like.

Secondly, as demonstrated by witness statements, no two people see the same event identically. So why try to capture the entirety of a subject, why not try and break it up into the aspects that you identify with? That seems to me to be an ideal way of turning complexity into art. Nature is complex, not irreducibly so, as idiots in the amusingly titled Intelligent Design crew believe, but it is complex. The current climate of horror-story-mongering about melting ice caps and general global warming, is beginning to reveal to the average person how inter-related everything is.

Those two interests of mine are by no means unrelated. The syncopated rewriting of musical rules that jazz introduced leapt out at me. It was different. There wasn't a solid beat with musicians coming in at set times. It sounded spontaneous, they couldn't be layering complexity, it had to be immediate. Hmm that's just reminded me jazz might be the music form that reflects GenNow better than anything else - ironic that jazz is one art form that is danger of dying out then.

Well that went somewhere other than I thought it would. Woohoo for just sitting here and writing and seeing what comes out. I'd like to thank some cheese and some blackberries for sustenance during that.

Beer Review: Glencoe Wild Oat Stout (organic). This from the Bridge of Allan brewery we visited. Big chocolate toasted oatmeal flavour. Small head (low carbonation), The taste was sooo smooth, so rich, even down to the bottom of the glass. I'll keep an eye out for this one back home. Very recommended.

Tomorrow: i think the Tate Britain as Neil mentioned their Turner collection which probably needs a looksee after my realisation Turner didn't just do boring landscapes (thanks for that Neil and Antiques Roadshow - now there's a pairing I wouldn't have imaged...). Possibly some clothes shopping too.

B x.

Whisky. No really.

7 July Whisky Hunting!

We arrived in Edinburgh after particularly vicious ticket inspectors, who eventually won making me write down a day on my travel pass. Well yeah OK they were in the right, but still!!!

Meandering to the Royal Mile we had a look in a couple of whisky shops for the Ardbeg Still Young, since I've had it twice, loved it, and have been unable to find it since it's apparently run out. Pah.
Neither of the stores we visited had it, but thanks to some superb friends of Neil's there is a bottle left in London (cue sound of pattering feet...).

Neither shop showed any inclination to let us try stuff either. I guess that's a reflection of being on the main tourist drag (feckin' pipers every block too). The new Ardbeg is out, it's called Renaissance, and is the culmination of the very young, still young and almost there lineage. The guy in the shop had described the almost there as creamy (I can't remember it being creamy) and said the Renaissance seems to have lost that. Probably worth a taste, will see if I can track down someone who will give me some.

I asked after the PC7, and no news of a release date for that.
One of the shops had a 150-200UKP of Brora. And yes I did look more than twice. My love for the Dun Bheagan 24yo Brora is well known, and indeed every Brora I've had I've enjoyed (see later for more). One also had a bottle of the 42yo Black Bowmore with POA on it. Seeing as the bottle at Regional is going for NZ4500-6000 I could appear knowledgeable, although not keen enough to buy it.

And then we decided it was time to head out to the tasting rooms, located in the backblocks of Leith. There was sun out, so I got to make a reference to the Proclaimers. Never been able to make that before, since it's been raining every other time.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was set up by a group who bought casks from the distillery and eventually bottled them. It expanded, and now they buy casks that don't fit with the distilleries main focus, so everyone wins. Cos let's face it, only whisky nutcases are going to want to try the strange stuff. The place itself is all wood and leather, with fireplaces, but doesn't suffer from stuffiness - which I guess is a risk for places described as a club. Very knowledgable staff - well except for one newbie - and the best, Louise, was hot and loved whisky. *swoon*
The club doesn't identify the distillery, or rather describes the distillery without naming it. Although useful websites are available.

We started off with one called Sea Salt and Pork Crackling. We learned later this was a Springbank, a distillery which this week has announced a shutdown for two years while they expand. This whisky was just mad. The nose promised one thing, the palate did another, and the finish rocked along to an entirely different place. There were hints of burnt orange, phenol (not too high), smoke, grass (maybe) and tasted nothing at all like the Springbank I've had previously. Which is entirely the point of this place. We were both smitten. If that's a word you can use to describe a drink.

Meandering to the bar we got chatting to Louise. I explained what I liked, and said I just wanted random weird stuff, so she let me taste a Japanese whisky. Not something I tend to do by choice. I can't remember what it was called (but don't think it was a Suntory), taste was salty burnt, it was ok, but nothing special. I asked if they had any Brora, which they did. Sadly no bottles left to buy, so I tasted it instead. Quite similar to mine, so didn't bother with a dram (Neil did), so complex, so rich, so good.
Ended up trying something, which I can't remember the distillery, that was very smokey and tangy, but also strangely light. Enjoyed this. Whatever it was.

The first whisky I had that spoke to me with levels of complexity and interest was one I picked up at the whisky shop in Heathrow, following our first visit to the UK many years ago. i'd been tasting a 14yo Mortlach and was about to buy it, when the guy who I'd been chatting to suggested I fork out the extra 10 quid for the 21 yo. Good plan. that was an interesting tasting, I said I hadn't had much whisky, but had liked what I had (which wasn't much at that stage), and what would he recommend for a beginner. Knowing his stuff he suggested highland malt - which if I were in his position now, I'd do the same. So as nod to my whisky beginnings, I had a Mortlach. And it didn't disappoint, lovely nose, complex caramel taste with a hint of pepper (not much tho'), and a nice long finish. It appears my introduction to the real dram was a good one.
I checked and there were no more bottles of the Arran I'd tried on Saturday, which was sad, but the nature of their supplies.

We had something to eat about this point, as we're responsible drinkers. And being interested in the whisky tastes, we'd been cleansing palates with a reasonable amount of water - see how good we are!!

Next up was the Caramac and gooseberries. This was apparently from Aultmore, which I've never heard of. A 15yo malt, oaky wood taste, subtle fruity (guess thats their 'gooseberries') taste, but with some kick. This was annoying as I'd also be happy having a bottle of this one. But I can't be greedy.

I finished the night with a lowland malt. Now if there's one thing I've learnt over the last year or two it's not worth having preconceptions about regions or ages of whiskies. I've had tasteless $500 bottles (Glenfarclas), I've had complexity that beggars belief from young whiskies (PC6), and I've had Islay malts that appear to be missing salt. I hadn't had a lowland malt that had much going on tho', until then. This was an 18yo from the recently closed Little Mill distillery. You'd swear it was about 25yo and from the highlands. A huge nose of caramel, sherry and leather, was followed by a massive sticky toffee, molasses, cream, sultanas palate with a finish that was still going hours later. It was probably a 10 on my usual ranking scale. Think a bigger, heavier version of a stunning highland malt and you'd be on the right track.

So what did I get? Well the Little Mill bowled me over, but it was similar to other whiskies I've had, which isn't the point of the society. So i went with the Springbank. It was doing things whisky, and in particular Springbank's shouldn't be doing. Or rather it was doing them in such a schizophrenic way you wouldn't expect them all in one whisky.

This was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had with whisky. Neil's jealous of the Regional tastings as I get the opportunity to try whiskies from all over the place, which is rare (if not absent) in Scotland. But he does have the Society, so I think we both come out ok.
Great whisky, company, food and such a relaxed environment.

8 July 2008

Prog it, Prog it real good

5,6,7 July

Seeing as I saw more trainspotters in the next town things became clearer, apparently a steam excursion was taking place.

Arrived in Glasgow and met up with the PsychoChicken Prog Tours (sign revealed later) who came with HippyDave in tow. A quick car ride later, to the sounds of prog, and we were back at ProgCentral. After a hello to the lovely Zantic, a quality beer appeared in our hands and the journey to prog-vana began.

The Chicken is going to try and remember what we played, but it involved everything from SoSo Modern, Phoenix Foundation, King Crimson, Marilion, Pallas (or Iron Maiden as they are now known), Arena, Pink Floyd, The Pineapple Thief and many other stalwarts of the prog scene, both cheese and talent. A wonderful group of people welcomed us 'foreigners' (for the HD is from the lower country) and helped us consume much stunning quality Scottish ale. The Chicken and Zantic certainly know their ales. It would be churlish to single out highlights, as the concept of many hours of prog, beer and whisky with like-minded people is something I struggle to find at home! Two out of those three is easy...
It was great to finally talk to HippyDave, we first met back in 2002 (?) at a Marillion warm-up gig where, from memory, I was a bit drunk as I'd caught up with a friend I'd been to the Oswestry gig some years before. So actually having a conversation with him face-to-face rather than IRC or mailing list was a nice change. It appears HDs assertion that each country has a prog/beer/whisky person may have been proven correct this weekend.
Beers tasted: err many of them.
Whisky's tasted: a Scotch society Arran. This was a fascinating dram, not at all typical - which is the societies aim (see next blog). No tasting notes sorry kids, but it was very complex, and I'd made sure I had it early in the evening.
Also tasted the Glengoyne 17yo which is one of PCs drams of choice. It's nice and good, but not anything different to stuff I've already got. So not a 'must-buy'. A quiet early night (130am), I blame jet-lag !

Prog(Sun)Day dawned and we started with a very nice breakfast and more than adequate coffee from the cafe down the road. And yes, I succumbed and had some black pudding with my vege breakfast - I do have a love of good black pudding which isn't an issue at home, but having PC and Zantic say it was good here almost broke my arm, such was the twisting, and they were right. Had a score update from Fran which made my morning - thankfully having two Scots at the table meant no-one looked at me oddly for wanting to hear 'the real footy' score.
Having decided we wouldn't stop in at Glengoyne, although we did drive past it, we headed up to the small brewer in Bridge of Allan. Tried the pints there, very very nice 80/- which is what I settled on for a pint. The cider, which they've just bottled, was also quite a revelation. One thing that always pisses me off about NZ cider, which you'd think would be good, is it's overly sanitised nature, it's filtered to buggery and far too highly carbonated. This one wasn't. In fact it's one of the better ciders I've had.
Needless to say, beers were purchased. I've grabbed a cider, a stout and a ginger beer. Reviews to follow.
Supplies for the next mornings brekkie were purchased from the deli were purchased and we headed back to Glasgow.

At this point it's worth mentioning there were four of us in a mini. Bear in mind that's three male prog fans, and all that entails. I now know HD better. Civil union to follow.
The journey up was very scenic, reminding me, again, how similar NZ and Scotland are. More mist in Scotland, but the same fatalistic 'well it's sunny now, better pack a jacket' approach to weather. Return was via the motorway which was less scenic.
Music provided by XTC (way up) and Marilion (way up and back).

This was about the time we were to head for an early dinner before the gig. HD is known (and yes, I may be going for understatement there) for his love of curry, and so Indian was cuisine de jour. The Shish Mahal is apparently a firm favourite of our hosts, and given the number of people there at 530-6pm on a Sunday, of Glaswegians in general. Understandable really, dinner was great. I had a med-hot vege curry (whose actual name escapes me now) that was exactly how I wanted it. Superb. HD gamely struggled through his to avoid offending anyone too. Trooper!

The wander to the venue was interrupted by a pint in a pub with a nice whisky collection. The pint was adequate (McEwan's 80/- from memory) without being great. After arriving at the venue (The Arches) and meeting the rest of our party, most of whom had attended the previous Evening of Prog, we managed to secure second row viewing for the evenings entertainment. We also, and this is worth mentioning for the sheer unbelievability, had no beer during this gig.
Note for other visitors: when UK gigs say starts at 730, this does apparently mean 730, not 930-10pm as say I'm used to !!

First up were Frost. A veritable supergroup with the rhythm section of IQ, John Mitchell and Jem Godfrey. Their debut album, Milliontown, was a bit of a surprise hit the other year. As such I was really looking forward to hearing the live. They certainly delivered, opening with Milliontown. Yup that's right, a 45 minute set and they open with a 25 min epic. Well I guess it makes selecting the other songs pretty easy! Sure the set wasn't perfect, but it rocked, and more importantly - the band were really enjoying themselves. In fact I'd go so far as to say in the same league of fun as a Phoenix Foundation gig with the amount of by-play within the band and interaction with the audience. By god can John Mitchell play guitar. Looking like he was idly swinging a golf club the solo-ing was superb. The new track they played seemed a bit rockier than the last album. All good and a we all had the feeling that if the support were that good that the main act could be a bit of a let down (yeah, that's how good Frost were, absolutely blinder of a set).

So thirty minutes later the Mighty Beard arrived. I'll try and dig up a set-list. But from start to finish this was a complete, fun and stunning performance. On CD the band sound superb, but I had my doubts if they'd be able to deliver live. Misplaced doubts it turned up. Nick is a great frontman and his singing is eerily similar to the departed Neal during the early stuff. Speaking of the early stuff, there were a few tracks I didn't know (or didn't know well) so they were playing stuff off the first three albums. That's unfortunate as it'll cost me money. Ryo is nutjob on the keys, normally you'd say four keyboards would be overkill. Four seemed to be limiting him. Described by Alan as 'Ryo and his invisible 12 hands', his solo was impressive and showy without being self-indulgent. Something of an achievement for a prog band! The Nick and Jimmy drum duet was something to hear. Nick's an excellent drummer, but the touring drummer Jimmy was certainly up the task. What really stood out was that it wasn't an annoying drum solo, as many prog ones can be.
Highlights? jeez too many to mention. But the vibe on stage was superb. Five guys pissing around on stage thoroughly enjoying themselves. If Frost looked relaxed and having fun, then SB made them seem uptight prog-twats. Sure there were a few wrong notes, but the over-whelming sense of 'fun' more than made up for those. This was one of those rare, thoroughly enjoyable, gigs where the audience and bands were all there for a good time. Special mention has to be made of Alan Morse. The man is nuts. Insane. Looking like, as HD described him, a college professor wearing a sparkly jacket, his solo-ing was mindblowing. And even more relaxed than Frost's. This was some of the best guitar work I've seen, and he seemed to be doing anything but playing. Leaping around, guitar behind the head/back, legs, hunting Ryo with it, throwing devil horns everywhere, you'd think he didn't have enough to do. We stood there agape at his sheer talent, and then stunned as near the end he decided to try climbing the barrier to the crowd much to the consternation of the roadies. Although from the looks on their faces they were SB roadies and weren't as surprised by these antics as others could have been...
The balance of the setlist was nice, broken up well between long fun epics and shorter more punchy pieces. Audience interjections were good including cries for Snow (the SB album) which was countered by the band with 'but it's July', countered by the audience with 'but it's scotland'.

The band all popped out after the gig for a signing session, so I felt compelled to pick up the new live album. Nice.

I think what stood out about this gig making it something special, was the attitude of the bands. they understood they were prog, and that above all prog is fun. The level of cheese in prog is high, and bands who fail to get that often come across as self-indulgent boring idiots. These two bands were up there for the sheer joy of playing together, and the audience got that.
All of this made for a wonderful day of Prog and limited beer consumption and we fell asleep on a high from a gig we classed as one of the best we'd been to.

Monday arrived and the absence of beer from the night before meant a fighting fit Prog Trio. Just like Rush, only other parts of Commonwealth :) So after a healthy brekkie of haggis on bun. I know. Don't even bother to say it. But PC had said this was great haggis, and when in Rome... And then we hit the town!!
Actually we chilled out on the couches listening to the rather superb stereo. This time we had Spock's Beard, Rush, Camel and Roger Waters - a rather scary experience on this stereo when those torpedoes hit. There may have been more. It's a bit of a Blur. A cake had been made by the prog-widow, a very nice cake as we found out. Devil horns to prog-widows with bitchin' cake baking skillz.

It quickly turned into time to say goodbye to HD as we dropped him off to the airport. Great meeting him! We should do this more often !

After many long rambling discussions between PC and myself about whisky (regular readers will remember our journey to Edradour - our favourite distillery - last year) we decided to head to the Whisky Society tasting rooms in Edinburgh for a dram or two. PC is a member and I'm enthusiastic.

And that's the subject of the next blog.

I'd like to say thanks to all of PCs friends, for keeping it Prog. I'd threaten to be back, but Minister of Prog probably doesn't want that kinda threat!


5 July 2008

TT 3-4 July (and early 5th July)

Synchronicity is a funny thing. Call it a Fellini moment if you're so piscine inclined, but sitting in Auckland airport opening up Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" and reading the forward dated 3 July 2005 suggested, to me at least, that this was a good reading choice.

So thank to the lovely Patricia for the loan of this. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.
This section of the missive comes to you from Hong Kong. That came as a surprise to me, for some reason I thought the flight went through Singapore. Oh well. 
I'm currently stuck in traveller's purgatory, transit. Further investigation revealed, although signs were notably absent, one had to pass through Departures in order to get to the duty free shopping. So I did. Only had 40 minutes to fill in, it was a very brief stopover after-all, so didn't really do any shopping, just sat around and read my book.

Flight from HK to London was fine, for some reason even tho' the flight time is less than to Auck to HK it always seems longer. I guess that's because I sleep form Auckland. Food was good and I managed to get a bit pissed over lunch while heading in to London. Either the steward was really nice guy, or he was hitting on me. I expressed interest in the pinot noirs (good NZ selection) so after the third one, he wandered off to Business class and found the ones they had there and brought them to me. Woohoo.

Landed in the UK and fought my way through UK customs which has become more of a nightmare than ever. On the plus side I was one of the first off the plane so only had a 40 minutes wait. Then tube to Kings Cross to find Andrew, who didn't recognise me with the hair. Result!
Dropped stuff off at his place, had a shower (oh god, better than sex, well some sex, oh ok, it was a nice shower), and headed to the pub. Oh go on, pretend to be surprised!! Drank a bit, met up with Alex - who also looked shocked. Heh. Good plan that one.

Went home, watched some Braniac while we ate dinner then I fell asleep just after 9pm. Rock n roll bruvva.
Writing this from the train to Edinburgh on the way to Glasgow, there are bugger all directs to Glasgow on Saturday and this one was quicker than those anyway. Yeah go figure. But again with the 1st class, they bring me coffee (which is, to be very charitable, adequate), free wifi on the train which is awesome, but the power socket doesn't work so I only have about 40mins of battery time left. Dammit. And I can't charge my phone, which is also dying. Oh well I've texted Neil that so hopefully he'll still turn up to find me...
We just went past a bunch of anglers sitting on a river, masses of them, all looking intently at the river. Quaint. Oh yay, trainspotters, quite a sizeable bunch of them in Doncaster. Right, mental note to avoid this place :)

Right well I'm going to blog this one, and will catch up with you lot in a day or two.

me x

3 July 2008

It's been relaxing

I've been off the last couple of days after a hellish couple of weeks. And it's been relaxing.
I've watched a lot of:
* Peep Show (up to Series 3)
* War (enjoyed this movie, pretty cynical, I liked that)
I've cleaned the house, I've organised booking references, checked out various distilleries for visiting with N and HD, done a lot of washing. I organised my clothes and stuff to pack, that took 10-15 minutes. Goddamn I'm great!!! Admittedly still need to finish putting them in the bag, but meh, it's all done.

So basically all I have to do now is to much around, relax, listen to music, nibble on dinner, and head off.
It'll be good to drink some ale off tap, catch some bands, chill out, see the Lovely A-team (and end up buying them beer and delivering their NZ purchasing requests), and most importantly find cheese. Glorious cheese.

me x