All Aboard the Centenary Bus!

It feels as though these last couple of weeks has come full circle for me. On Wednesday evening, I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Prom 36: Vaughan Williams and Alwyn.

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Absolutely brilliant. I booked a ticket only a week before and only because of the recent centenary events (yes, I’m afraid this is another piece on WWI from me – as if you couldn’t get enough stuff on the subject at the moment as it is. You should by now know I’m a little obsessed. Don’t ask me why – someone once said I have a fascination with morbid things.)

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At the moment, I feel like every time I turn on the TV or go to read The Guardian, there’s a new article or programme about the centenary waiting for me, just me, to discover it; it’s like the twelve days of Christmas.

My centenary adventure begins: I went to the Imperial War Museum a couple of weeks ago. I tried to rouse the troops – “It’s had a £4 million refurb, don’t you know?… It really is the best museum… Of course – there’s LOADS of good-looking men there, mostly dead ones in old photos, but you get what you can where you can find it…”.

I also was honest. I said, “I’ll probably look at EVERYTHING.” Thought that would sort the women from the children, and they’d say, “So will we! We’ll power through with you – we’re that interested.”

But they said, “No.” Apart from two friends, and yes, I have more than two.

What can I say? The others missed out. They missed out.

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The WWI gallery housed some of the most spine-tingling artistic pieces I’ve seen, and the World War 1 exhibition, which we queued for, has been modernised really well – with projections and interactive elements aplenty (screw you, Natural Boring History Museum), though I was sorry to see that the Blitz experience had disappeared. Oh well.

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We powered through the various exhibits – the WWII tank known as Willie Pusher, the traumatising Holocaust exhibition, and even the toilets that glare with so much red lighting, I expected poles and dancers to rise out of the floor.

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What dismays me a little now, which I discovered when reading an article yesterday, is that the Chinese voluntary services who fought amongst Britain’s allies, have been literally painted out of history. And though exhibitions and various TV programmes are making their efforts to remember the often forgotten African and Indian soldiers, there’s no acknowledgement of the Chinese – not even at the Imperial War Museum. Only now are they getting their first official memorial.

Another stop on the tour de centenary was the British Library. I mooched along there to pass the time on a Friday evening and, you know, suck up some more black and white shizzle. But I was so amazed at the WWI exhibition they had. Not only did they have original posters from the day, but also actual original handwritten poems and letters – from the likes of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sasson and Wilfred Owen. Just amazing! This was everything I’d studied at school. It said not to take pictures, so I did. Apologies for light reflections.

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Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier – original manuscript

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Letter to Rupert Brooke from a friend offering to darn his socks

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Siegfried Sassoon’s accompanying letter to his anti-war declaration…

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…Siegfried Sassoon’s anti-war declaration – for which he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for hysteria

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Letter from Isaac Rosenberg, referencing his poem In the Trenches

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Poem Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Own – original manuscript with annotations by Siegfried Sassoon

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Vaughan Williams – original manuscript

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WWI letter of condolence

Could hardly sit still the rest of the evening.

Which brings me to my final stop on the magical WWI bus. I’d decided to watch WWI Remembered from Westminster Abbey on Monday the 4th. I thought even I might get bored, but I tell you what – I was enthralled. I guess I should have expected there’d be readings by actors and soldiers of letters, poems and books from 1914, considering the Great War fuelled so much great art and literature – much of which I studied during my A-Levels. A decent balance between men and women’s work as well, as sadly too often, women’s voices are not heard or cared for in this genre, or simply snarled at. And I loved one of the speeches, which I believe was by Hew Strachan, professor at Oxford University, in which he spoke of how we should be wary of hindsight, as it’s all too easy to patronise the past and the decisions made during the war.

But there’s one area of culture I’ve never studied, and that’s classical music – especially the pieces that were performed on this night – the likes of Elgar and Thomas Tallis. So when I heard those opening notes of the organ played by Daniel Cook, and by the violinist Jennifer Pike playing A Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, I caught my breath.

So emotionally fitting with the ideology of 1914, having been written in that year before Vaughan Williams lied about his age and joined the army.

This piece, based on the poem of the same name by George Meredith, effectively shows how the composer lost his innocence simply because his pieces following that war to end all wars were much more disturbing, and were his dedications to his lost companions, such as the composer George Butterworth.

And it turns out I’m not the only who feels this way about The Lark Ascending, as it was voted the nation’s favourite piece of classical music in Classic FM‘s poll – which made me feel a little bit clueless as I never really knew this piece before now. Still, I listened to this song obsessively the other week and couldn’t seem to listen to anything other than classical music. So I decided to go and see something at the Proms, and thought I wonder... And my heart skipped a beat, because I found that The Lark Ascending was playing at the Proms!

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On Wednesday night, I wrung my hands, sweating, throughout the entire 15 minutes and felt like a lark myself, like I do every time I hear it. And I could hear sniffing around me, and it was played so softly at times, that I could almost not hear it – and you can’t hear it on the Radio 3 recording for this reason, but when I was there, I could feel it – feel the waves on my goosebumps. Static and ecstatic. I’m due to hear it again in November when my friend, a professional violinist, will be playing it at a remembrance event.

I should probably invite along the two old ladies who sat next to me at the Proms; they slept through the whole, bloody thing.

The Female Louis Armstrong: Tiny Davis

It’s the Eurovision Song Contest this Saturday (which I hope you’re all going to watch) and so in good taste, I’m going to do a post about something that definitely is NOT related to Eurovision. Meet Ernestine “Tiny” Davis, not the murderer electrocuted on death row, but the very cool singer/ jazz trumpet player.

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I first came across her in a documentary called Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women from 1988. It was an extra on a DVD documentary called Before Stonewall about the American gay community before the Stonewall riots that took place on June 28 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village.

Here is a shortened version of the docu:

Tiny Davis played the trumpet most famously in the band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, during the 1940s. They were quite an individual group of women, mainly because they “abandoned” their children and husbands to tour and play – something which was highly frowned upon in those days. They were the first integrated all women’s band that existed in the USA and started out when members of the Piney Woods Country Life School for poor and African American children, the majority of which were orphans, got together to play swing and jazz. Here they are in full swing (my favourite is Jump Children):

Tiny joined the Sweethearts when Jessie Stone took over as composer in 1941, and sought out more professional musicians to play alongside the less experienced members. The band itself was not only multi-talented, but multi-racial, an important thing in segregated America. When they toured the country, they practically lived on the tour bus – practised, studied, slept there – mainly because they couldn’t stay in hotels due to the segregation policy. In the documentary, Tiny speaks about the fact that even though some of the women in the Sweethearts were in heterosexual relationships – married with children – they would still get together with the other female musicians when on tour. She herself was in a relationship with Ruby Lucas, a fellow Hell Divers band member – the band that Tiny formed after the Sweethearts. They were adopted as heroes of the gay rights movement, and during the 1950s they ran a bar in Chicago called Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot. They even have a song on their Hot Licks album called Diggin’ Dykes.

Tiny was highly talented, but being a woman, she was rarely taken seriously. Strangely, World War II helped a lot of female musicians, especially the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, into the spotlight simply because male musicians were away at war. Of course, this meant that when the war finished, the Sweethearts had fewer gigs, and is one of the main reasons they disbanded by 1949. Tiny was such a brilliant musician, she was considered the female Louis Armstrong. In fact, he even tried to hire her away from the Sweethearts, but she turned him down, and when asked why later, she said, “I loved them gals too much.” Following the Sweethearts, Tiny went on to other musical projects. She died in 1994 at the age of 87.

A final quote of hers from the book Queer America:

“I don’t like to hear that ‘plays like a girl’ or ‘plays like a sissy’. I had more chops than most men… So no, we never got the credit we deserved. But women have a hard time in anything. There’s nothing you can do. Just keep on keeping on.”

Well said, Tiny.

See jezebel.org for more information on this documentary – or buy it here!

International Women’s Day: A Taste of Honey

Yes it’s that time of year – International Women’s Day on the 8th of March.

And why does it exist?

Well, because all the other days of the year are men’s days and we need a chance for all the men in the world to say “Well done, dear” for achieving…something.

Ho ho ho – only kidding! Of course that’s not the reason. No, this day is generally used to raise international awareness of campaigns regarding violence and oppression towards women. It started out back in the early 1900s following a women’s march through New York, demanding better working conditions, pay, and the vote.

Since then, it has been annually recognised. I have therefore decided that for the next 7 days, I will write about  women in history who have influenced me throughout my life (which is difficult – I’ve had to dig through the many male historical figures and the token few Joan of Arcs and Florence Nightingales that too readily spring to mind and remind myself of the women that influenced me) every day for the next 7 days…beginning with:

A TASTE OF HONEY

A Taste of Honey

This duo were a disco band in the 1970s. Why do they make it onto their own blog post? Back in the 70s, (and even the case today, as I have personally experienced) women were not taken seriously by the music industry or the general public as real musicians. Women sang songs written by other people, played by other people and generally did what other people told them. The other people were mainly men. Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne bucked the trend.

They played alongside drummer Donald Ray Johnson and keyboard-player Perry Kibble, yet they not only fronted the band but also played a collection of instruments and wrote the music. It was their song Boogie Oogie Oogie that sent them to the bigtime – staying at No 1 for three weeks in 1978, and selling more than two million copies. This song impressed me – as a bassist, it taught me that a bassist could be female, funky, lead a band, and sing at the same time. And all in heels. Even today, it still inspires me. Just see for yourself…

 

Good Times

Last night a DJ saved my life. I was in a club in Clapham, which in all honesty, I thought was going to be a cheesey music night. Now let’s get one thing straight people, when I say cheese this means the Baywatch theme tune, Ghostbusters theme tune, Grease megamix, 5ive megamix etc. It does NOT include disco. Disco ain’t cheese. It’s dance  music.

I’ve been reading Nile Rodgers’ autobiography:

Nile Rodgers

I’ve gotten a little obsessed with it. I wanted to read a fiction book but my sister put me onto this saying it would inspire me to write music. Not only has it done that but it’s also reminded me of my obsession with disco when I was a teenager. I’ve liked disco since I was a kid. We used to have record nights on Sundays, and my dad would always put on a mix of his “classics”: The Weather Girls, Sister Sledge, The Three Degrees, Yvonne Elliman, Liquid Gold. When I got a little older, I’d listen to more of these old dance tunes. 

I really got into disco when I was about 13. I used to daydream about going to a proper disco – I wanted to live in the seventies and go to a disco, or at least go to a school disco and dance to…disco! I hated most of the stuff in the charts at that time – pop and garage music mainly. Saying that, I did love some modern music, and that was funky house – mainly because a lot of funky house is simply sampled disco with a faster beat. I also got into the film 54, practically fell in love with Ryan Phillippe (Rodgers has some wild stories about that club). The disco obsession was unhealthy. Even more unhealthy than later obsessions with Woodstock, The Beatles, the sixties… Now I’m reading this book, it’s making me obsessed all over again. And I feel like I did when I was thirteen.

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People at school thought I was a bit weird because of it (and many other reasons). But actually, I just really loved the bass and drum grooves, and in fact, disco pretty much made me want to learn how to play the bass. In particular, Bernard Edwards, the  bassist of Chic, made me want to learn. I can’t remember who it was who first taught me how to create that distinctive disco bass sound – the octave run up and down the neck, but that was the start of my bass journey. As a result, I just had to learn how to play Everybody Dance, one of the trickiest basslines I’ve come across. I finally managed to conquer it, but still need to practise it regularly in order to keep my hands from cramping, because it is so fast and I use a different technique to Edwards. It is probably my favourite Chic song.

It was the first song they laid down as well – written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, who went on to write many other songs that have inspired songs in all genres, and have been sampled across the board – most notably in The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. I’m pretty sure that even the pop song Stomp by Steps was inspired by Everybody Dance

Rodgers’ story about the song Everybody Dance in his autobiography is the most memorable so far. He writes that a month after they laid down the track, a DJ in a club called Rodgers in the middle of the night. He told him to go  to his club and tell the doormen that he made Everybody Dance. When he got there, the doorman let him in and pretty much congratulated him. When he got inside, he found out that the crowd would dance to nothing but their song. He watched as they danced to it on repeat for an hour.

Which brings me back to last night. I was dancing with my friend, and I said, “I want to request something, but most DJs hate it when you request things.” A DJ got annoyed with me at new year for requesting something. But then I looked at the DJ and thought, maybe he won’t mind this particular request. I asked my friend if she’d ask for me and she said yes. I wrote a text on my phone: It would be great if you could play something by Chic. She took the phone and showed him.

I can’t remember what was being played but then the next song changed to a completely different genre – Chesney Hawkes possibly – and I thought, he’s changing the tempo – maybe he will play something by Chic. And then I heard the bassline and whooped: my first opportunity to dance to Everybody Dance in a club. Most of the people were a little earshocked by the change from a cheesey rock song to an upbeat disco tempo (mainly white people). Think I might have bumped into a few people while I was dancing. I said thanks to the DJ afterwards.

I went to see The Best Disco in Town back in 2004 with my sister and brother in law. A number of disco acts were playing, amongst them Shalamar, Rose Royce, Tavares and headlining them was Chic. I was all ready to watch them play and they came onstage…but no Bernard? I didn’t know that he’d died back in 1996. I was pretty gutted when I found out why he wasn’t there. I’ve yet to read how it happened in the book.

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Still, the bassist in the contemporary Chic was pretty decent, and the concert was great, but as we could only afford seats waaay back in Earls Court, we couldn’t really see much. So I’m going to see Nile Rodgers with Chic again in July and I’ll get the chance to dance to that song again – but live this time. And I’ll see Rodgers up close.

My 2012 in Pictures

My 2012 in pictures:

Early months…

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Churchill-Bedroom Map-Room-phone

100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic – and my greatest blog post of the year:

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Trolleybus Anniversary

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Ferris Wheel

View over Business Park from Ferris Wheel

Queen’s Jubilee – my father lighting the beacon at Whitstable

Queen's Jubilee

My first oyster at the Whitstable Oyster Festival

first oyster

Whitstable Harbour Oyster Festival

blessing

The Olympics 2012

Olympic Flame Relay

Brad wiggo

Summer days

Camden Market

SW4

 Holiday in Portugal

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Portugal2

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Larry Graham in concert

Larry Graham

Felix Baumgartner’s Stratos Jump – I was obsessed with this event – read here

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Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

Talk with Olympic and Paralympic athletes at work

Olympic and Paralympic Talk

The Thomas Hardy tree

Thomas Hardy Tree

Secret Cinema – The Shawshank Redemption

Secret Cinema November

Christmas 2012

Christmas Tree

A death in the family

Papa passport 3

Christmas party at the Tower of London

Tower of London Christmas Party

Christmas Day on the beach

Christmas Day on Beach