Friday, February 29, 2008

An Actual Happening: My Little Problem/Belinda Gillet/Man Ray Sky, Hector's House

Faced with a choice between hip electro-poppers Hot Chip and Brighton-based fledgling post-rockers My Little Problem last night, I decided it would be preferable to witness a relatively obscure band on its way up than a mainstream one on the way down. I'd been disappointed with Hot Chip's latest album (see my review here) and although I've heard that they do put on a decent live show, the idea of mingling with the inevitable throng of smug Brighton trendies in their 'so retro it hurts' pointy shoes was enough to convince me to brave seedy student haunt Hector's House to catch the latter, more low-key option. I was glad I did. The first (apparently nameless) support act was distinctly average, but the bar was soon raised by newly-formed experimental folk-rockers Man Ray Sky, who despite some sound issues, delivered an impressive set, especially considering it was only their second ever gig together. Next up was Belinda Gillet, whose beautifully soaring Sandy Denny-esque vocals and soft acoustic balladry was largely wasted on the noisy student crowd. The place was heaving by this point, a real buzz in the air about the immiment appearance of the headline act. An unconventional-looking multi-instrumental eight-piece, My Little Problem's hypnotic shoe-gazing epics have all the sprawling post-rock elegance of Explosions in the Sky, with a dash of Sigur Rós-style minimalist melancholy. Apparently MLP are off to the reverred South by Southwest festival this summer, a sure sign that they are destined for bigger things than Hector's House, and rightly so. It was worth putting up with the faint smell of wee and sticky floors to catch these guys in an intimate setting, at the start of what looks set to be a promising career. It turned out I wasn't the only one to choose MLP over Hot Chip - several people had even bailed half way through the gig across the road at the Corn Exchange to be there, which makes me think I made the right choice in the first place.

My Little Problem, Belinda Gillet and Man Ray Sky


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Life Through a Lens

Last night, on my way back from a big photographic exhibition in Birmingham, I popped in to see my brother in Sutton, also hoping to catch my three-year-old nephew before his bed time. After an initially frosty reception from the little boy - "I'm not talking to her" (he can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes - no idea where he gets it from...), I managed to lure him in by producing a camera (grown-up toys are always so much more interesting), and had the honour of teaching him how to take his first ever photographs. He soon got carried away, announcing, "I'm going to take a picture of daddy's hand...uncle Ant's nose....this wall...etc. etc." and the results were amusingly abstract, but he was totally mesmerised by the experience.

I can distinctly remember the thrill of capturing a moment on film (nowadays I guess it would be on screen) for the first time - when I was given a (sadly soon to be obsolete) Polaroid camera at the age of nine. The instant gratification of this format was particularly inspiring, and I can recall enlisting members of my family, often with various soft toys or long-suffering pets in tow, to pose for me around the house. Restricted by the cost of film for this type of camera, I soon moved on to the classic long thin 110 model - I think I had two of these - which served me well on family holidays and the like for the next few years. When my Nana died, I inherited her 126 Kodak Instamatic, which made a satisfyingly mechanical clunk when you took a picture, and required a separate disposable flashcube. Although this was in many ways a more retro model that either of my 110s, I loved the chunky shape and solid feel of it, and best of all, the cute square prints that also had a wonderfully vivid quality, much like the 'lomo' style, that is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. On my 18th birthday, my brother bought me a Nikon compact - my first 35mm model - which was my main camera for over ten years, and took some fantastic shots. I'd rarely go out without my little Nikon, and as a result have an unrivalled record of my times among my peers - earning me the title 'archivist of things you actually would never want archived' on a Facebook group of ex-theatre colleagues recently.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I discovered 'proper' photography, when I was given a second-hand Olympus OM10 SLR as a birthday present. Already a a prolific picture-taker, I now had the power to not only capture a moment on film, but to really get creative with my shots - and it was like a little light switching on inside me when I realised the possibilities. Last year I had to finally replace my trusty Nikon point-and-shoot (still handy for taking on nights out, and when you don't have time to faff about with focusing and metering and such), forcing me kicking and screaming into the digital age, I chose a Canon Powershot as it looked and felt the most like a 'real' camera out of the wide variety of models on offer. Whilst I have grown to appreciate the immediacy and money-saving aspect of digital photography, I really miss the thrill of taking in a film to get developed, never quite knowing what to expect. Many times have I sat laughing to myself on a bench outside Boots as I flicked through the evidence of a drunken weekend, prompting memories which would have otherwise been lost. Which is why I will keep the OM10 going, even though I now also have a digital SLR - a Nikon D40x. It's quite refreshing to be able to go back to the mechanical simplicity of a film SLR after tackling the seemingly endless functions and intimidatingly huge potential of its digital counterpart.

I hope that my nephew, Isaac, will have as much fun with photography as I have over the years - from his initial enthusiasm and impressive dexterity (for a three-year-old) last night, I would say there is a fair chance he'll take to it with the same gusto. Like his exhibitionist auntie, Isaac also enjoys posing in front of the camera - which I maintain is all part of the process of learning to take better pictures. And that's not just me trying to justify my propensity to pose (honest) - feeling comfortable on both sides of the lens allows one to empathise with the subject, and helps build a well-rounded relationship with the camera that can prove invaluable, especially in people photography. Already I am researching 'My First Digital Camera' options, (even though the boy's birthday is not until September) and am amazed at the choices on offer. As the excellent BBC4 series, The Genius of Photography recently demonstrated, we've come a long way since the first permanent photograph was made back in the early nineteenth century, and it's good to know that amongst all the technology and inventions available to today's generation, the good old fashioned (even in its advanced era) camera still has the power to excite and inspire.

A selection of my OM10 shots: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157600364795694/

Some photos from my pre-digital, point-and-shoot era: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157594561981195/

My first foray into compact digital photography: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157600238724322/

A recent set taken on the Nikon D40x DSLR: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157603558215940/

Monday, February 25, 2008

Vive La Différence!

Vive La Fip, Komedia, 23rd Feb 08

One of the things I love most about living in Brighton is the sheer volume and variety of activities on offer. You could, if you wanted, go out every weekend of the year and do something completely different - whether you're into live music, theatre, clubbing, eating, comedy, sport, drinking, or all of the above - there is no excuse for ever exclaiming "I'm bored!" in this town. As someone who feels largely indifferent towards conventional 'club' music, but does love to dance, I have particularly benefitted from the rise in alternative club nights in the last few years, especially since the relaxed licensing laws paved the way for non-traditional club venues to host such affairs. This means that I no longer have to brave the chav-infested seafront club strip in order to have a boogie on a Saturday night, and what's more, I get to dance to music that I would actually listen to at home. Many of these new club nights also give us vintage clothing lovers a chance to don our retro frocks without feeling out of place. Notable examples of such events include girly jive-fest Born Bad, cheesetastic We Luv Pop, oldie but goodie Dynamite Boogaloo, Brighton's answer to Lost Vagueness Boutique Theatre and sleazy electro disco It Came From the Sea, to name but a few. On Saturday, I took some friends along to Vive La Fip, one of several club nights now on offer at Brighton's premier arts centre Komedia.

A celebration of cult French radio station Fip, Vive La Fip is possibly the only place (other than my flat) where you could dance to ska, samba, disco, chanson, jazz, soul and rock in one evening. And it's not only the music that's eclectic - the elegantly clad punters range in age from 20-something to 50-something, happily intermingling on the dancefloor - united by a collective enthusiasm for the outstanding music. First heard in Brighton over ten years ago, many people presumed that they were picking up Fip's signal from across the channel, when in fact it was being illegally re-broadcast by a local resident, allegedly from somewhere in the Hanover area. The station's ever-growing army of listeners were left distraught when the pirate operation was finally discovered and thwarted by industry regulators Ofcom. But Fip lives on in Brighton - for those, like me, who listen via the internet - and once a month at Vive La Fip. Hosted in the intimate Studio Bar, with a comfortable balance of seating and dancefloor space, my only gripe about the night is the enforcement of plastic glasses, which seems ridiculous given the unusually refined and relaxed air of the proceedings. I do object to being made to drink from a plastic cup (especially when enjoying a rather fine pint of Dark Star ale) at my age, and it does diminish the otherwise sophisticated milieu somewhat. Let's hope that Komedia come to their senses and allow proper glassware in future, or I shall be tempted to bring my own tankard next time, I'm not joking!

Listen to Fip Online

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Breakfast In Bed?

It occurs to me that I've never actually explained the reason behind the title of this blog, other than in the About Me section, which I only added recently. So I thought it was about time I set the record straight. This is not a blog about Bed & Breakfasts, although I do get a lot of hits from people looking for accommodation recommendations. I may mention the occasional noteworthy hostelry in the context of writing about my various travels, but you won't find any B&B listings here, no sir. So why 'Breakfast In Bed'? Well, around the time I started blogging (early 2006), I'd been listening to a fantastic compilation CD called Super Seventies Reggae, on which one of the stand-out tracks is Breakfast in Bed by Lorna Bennett. Originally sung by Dusty Springfield as a bittersweet ballad, Bennett's version, released in 1971, is altogether sexier - oozing with seductive Caribbean charm, it puts one firmly in the mood to be waited on from under the comfort of the duvet. This song was stuck in my head when I was thinking about what to call my online offering, and it also seemed to reflect the sort of things I imagined writing about - namely life's little indulgences.

It should be said that making breakfast in bed for oneself does lessen the pampering factor rather, what with having to actually get out from under the duvet in order to prepare said feast, but let's face it, the chances of it happening any other way in our house are slim. I do get the occasional cup of tea delivered to my bedside on days when Mr M has to be up before me, or has been prematurely awoken by his bladder or an obstinate ginger cat - and even this is a most welcome indulgence. I'll admit to feeling slightly disappointed that it doesn't happen more often, especially since a precedent was set right at the beginning of our relationship - when I was brought not only breakfast, but the weekend papers (for which he had actually got dressed and gone out to the shops) - the first time I stayed over at his place. You could call this being lured in under false pretences, but I'm not one to complain (much). These days I am content to be spoiled a couple of times a year - on birthdays and anniversaries - and to find other ways to treat myself in the meantime. So whilst I do write about all those things here - music, food, books, socialising, travel - breakfast in bed remains the ultimate aspirational indulgence - the motivational icing on the metaphorical blog-cake.

Photograph courtesy of Romantic Home on Flickr

Disclaimer: This post is by no means intended as a hint.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Desert Island Addiction

It's rare that a whole week goes by without any cultural/sociable happenings in the diary, but every now and then I like to have a quiet stay-at-home week indulging in some lowbrow DVD action, and making the most of our LoveFilm subscription. Last night we watched the final three episodes of Lost Season 3 back to back - a nailbiting couple of hours of corking fantasy adventure. I hardly watch any TV as a rule, but have been known to become hooked on the occasional above-average series - usually fantasy or off-the-wall comedy; often a combination of both, e.g. Buffy, Spaced, Black Books, Heroes, The Mighty Boosh. Even then, I tend to wait for them to be available on DVD, as I hate being tied to a particular viewing time each week, plus my VCR is broken and I have yet to make the transition across to new-fangled digital recording facilities (though this is becoming increasingly inevitable).

Lost came along during something of a hiatus in what I think of as chewing gum for the eyes, and I remember being excited by the classy trailers featuring scantily clad beautiful people on a stunning tropical beach, and the promise of dark fantasy adventures. Season 1 was pretty good, good enough for me to stay home especially to watch it once a week, but by the end of Season 2 I was getting bored of the repetitive storylines and lack of fresh blood. Thankfully, Season 3 managed to claw its way back to being the cutting edge drama we'd all hoped for. This was partly down to the introduction of a whole new set of characters, including the fantastically hammy Bond-style Russian baddie Mikhail (pictured above) - complete with clichéd villainous eye-patch - who I find strangely attractive in a sexy-ugly kind of way. And I was starting to get bored of oggling at the pectorally perfect and ever-brooding Sawyer, so it was good to have an eye-candy alternative. All the original protagonists seemed to go through some sort of significant personal development or life-changing epiphany, making them generally more likeable as a result. I almost regret carving through the whole series so quickly, but it was such compelling viewing that it was impossible not to, and for me to say that, it must be good. The ending was cleverly enigmatic - resolving certain issues, but leaving enough in the air to guarantee your attention for another series. I believe Series 4 is currently showing on Sky One, but I shall have to wait a good few months before it comes out on DVD to get my fix. Meanwhile, my week of lowbrow indoor entertainment continues this evening with the latest series of Smallville, the first disc of which should be waiting on the doormat when I get home.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Closet Romantic

I always cry at weddings. In spite of my sometimes cynical attitude towards the marriage institution, I find the sentiment behind two people making a heartfelt public commitment to each other deeply moving, and that little sparkle of romance left in my soul invariably swells up via my eyes, even more so since I tied the knot myself. I've reached that stage in life where every summer brings another two or three weddings, more excuses to buy new frocks and hats, and a chance for me to have a little cathartic weep as yet another pair say "I do". This weekend I shall be attending my first ever gay wedding. I refrain from using the term 'Civil Partnership', as to me it sounds rather formal and boring, and if I know Sham and James, their bash will be anything but dull. I am excited for lots of reasons - not least because they have asked me to sing at the ceremony, something I haven't done for a few years. From the ages of about 10 to 15 I sang in the choir of St Philip's Church Eastbourne, and was even Head Chorister for the latter years (I know, I can hardly picture it now, either!). As well as our usual Sunday duties, the junior choir would make a bit of extra cash by singing at weddings on Saturdays, for people who presumably didn't happen to know any good singers to ask. I've sung a couple of times at family weddings too, most recently at the reception of my cousin's big do in the Lake District last summer. But the last time I actually performed during the ceremony must have been for my Godmother Jood's marriage blessing, back in the early nineties. I remember it was on New Year's Day, so everyone was hungover, and it was freezing cold in church - not the ideal circumstances for singing - but I gave it my best, and it meant a lot to contribute to their special day in such a personal way. When Sham asked me to sing at his wedding to James, I had a feeling they would want something less traditional than I would normally choose for my voice (classical/sacred music is my forté), and so I had fun putting together a list of potential songs, mostly jazz standards, for them to pick from. These included 'Making Whoopee', 'Someone to Watch Over Me', 'Can't Help Lovin Dat Man' and for kitsch value, 'Nobody Does It Better'. Unsurprisingly, they went straight for this, clearly the campest option, which, although not really in my range, will be fun to perform. The lovely Brian will be accompanying me on piano, which makes me feel a lot more confident about the whole thing, and of course the fabulous full-length frock I've bought for the occasion will really help me feel the part. I'm also hugely excited because I've never been to a same-sex ceremony before, and it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that British law has finally granted gay couples comparable rights, and the opportunity to express their love more openly than ever before. We've come a long way, and the added significance of this will be sure to make these particular nuptials even more poignant than usual. Let's just hope I can get the singing out of the way before I start to blub.

(Picture courtesy of Gino Ginelli on Flickr)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Disappointing Dance Date

James Son of James, The Dome, 13th Feb 08

As a sixth-form drama student in Lewes, I was a regular visitor to the now sadly defunct Gardner Arts Centre, just up the road on the Sussex University campus in Falmer. I can clearly recall falling asleep on more than one occasion during some highly pretentious and dreary 'physical theatre' performances; usually involving lots of grunting and wailing; and subsequently struggling to find enough to say in the required post-theatre trip essay. Now and then there would be something good enough to keep my attention, and stop me from losing faith entirely in the so-called 'performance art' genre, in fact my second ever date with the now husband was to see an excellent Northern Stage production of Animal Farm which we both enjoyed, he being even more cynical than me. The only times I've seen such things in recent years have been at Edniburgh festival, when more often than not, I would again be disappointed at the cringe-making no-irony-intended archness of it all. But I still haven't given up hope of finding the odd gem in amongst a slew of ostentatious tripe, and was intrigued by the hype surrounding Irish dance company Fabulous Beast, whose latest production, James Son of James, in the absence of the Gardner, would be finding a home at the more central mainstream venue of The Dome. So I bought two tickets for me and the boy, hoping to bring back happy memories of our early courtship, and to make a change from our seemingly habitual gig-going excursions. Fabulous Beast calls itself a dance company, and the cast members are clearly talented dancers, but the moments of movement were few and far between - the production instead being punctuated by tedious, drawn-out scenes of stilted dialogue and sometimes painful singing. The story itself was predictable and sparse, maybe enough to fill a short festival-length piece of 45 mins, but too much to stretch over nearly two hours with no interval. The only bit I really enjoyed was I suppose the closest thing to a chorus number in this kind of show - a beautifully choreographed wedding scene in which the whole cast showed off their dance skills with an array of styles, from salsa to jive. But this only served to make the rest of the performance more of an anti-climax, and we both left feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I have a feeling it might be a good long while before I will be able to persuade 'him indoors' along to anything remotely similar in future. Back to gigs next week, then.


James Son of James, Fabulous Beast Dance Company

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Becoming a Dental Tourist

Whether justified or not, the British have a reputation for having bad teeth, and considering the cost of dentistry in the UK, this is hardly surprising. Even if you are lucky enough to get onto the books of an NHS dentist, you would still find yourself at the mercy of a prohibitive system that doesn’t seem to want you to help you get your teeth sorted. I am proud to say that until recently I did not count myself among the dentally challenged nation, having boasted perfect teeth all my life, with not so much as a filling (thanks mum for limiting my sweetie intake). It was only when I fell off my bike and ruined a fair proportion of these immaculate pearlies, that I discovered just how awful the British dentistry system really is for anyone without the means to pay for private treatment. Until the accident, I had been quite happy to stump up the cost of a check-up once in a while at a lovely private dentist, who actually told me not to bother coming back for a couple of years at my last visit! After breaking eight, and completely losing two teeth in the accident, I was forced to transfer to an altogether less friendly NHS practice, since there was no way I could afford the £400 per crown that would be needed to mend the broken teeth, let alone the £2k+ I was quoted for dental implants to replace the missing ones. I was then told by my new dentist that although there is an upper limit to what the NHS can charge you (£194 for one or more crowns) they would only allow the practice to administer a maximum of two at a time, without a special dispensation that could take up to six months to approve, meaning that I would have to go back every couple of months, paying the £194 each time, and dragging out the already traumatic process to a ridiculous extent. And you cannot get dental implants on the NHS - the only option offered is dentures, or a bridge – which would mean drilling down perfectly healthy teeth on either side of the gap. Not wanting to be saddled with dentures at the tender age of 32, I was beginning to consider re-mortgaging the flat and going back to my private dentist, when someone suggested the possibility of going abroad for treatment.

There is a growing dental tourism industry, particularly in Hungary and Poland, both of which now have entire towns built on incoming foreign dentistry trade. So I started looking at the options, reading about the possible pitfalls, asking around for recommendations, when I was forwarded an email from a friend about a forthcoming consultation happening with a Hungarian dentist in Eastbourne - my hometown, just 25 miles along the coast from Brighton. It felt like one of those kismet moments, when things fall into place just at the right time, so I made an appointment to meet the dentist. We met a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday in a seafront hotel, and I knew almost straight away that it was the right thing to do. Quite apart from my vanity and confidence having taken a severe knock, I haven’t been able to eat properly since losing the teeth (oh, how I miss pizza so), and the permanent discomfort has inevitably worn me down. Yesterday I booked a date to start the first stage of the implant surgery, and just knowing that it is definitely happening makes me feel so much more positive already. The first step (a detailed description of which – not for the faint-hearted - can be read here) involves having two metal screws put into my jaw, which then take four months to fuse to the bone before I can go back for the remaining treatment, after which, all being well, I will have a full complement of teeth once more. I’m trying to decide how to make the two trips to Hungary with minimal carbon footprint, and am considering rail travel for at least some of it, depending on the cost. But even with the travel and accommodation, my dental bill will be 1/3 of what it would have been in the UK. And I will be getting the most up-to-date, state of the art treatment, which is currently inconceivable via the NHS. I am trying hard not to resent the fact that I have had to resort to this course of action, having looked after my teeth so conscientiously all my life. It seems unfair that had I broken one of my limbs and needed surgery, this would be automatic on the NHS, but to repair accidentally broken teeth, one must stump up the cash, and even be forced to travel to the other end of Europe to be mended! The thought of my first post-surgery pizza is the only thing keeping me sane in the face of such frustration - goats’ cheese and spinach at the Walmer to be precise.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Restoration & Recreation

My poor bicycle, I call her Hedwig, has been sat in the hallway looking a bit sad for the last six months, since we were both damaged in an accident that resulted in a broken jaw and smashed up teeth for me, and a blown tyre and a few scratches for her. I finally got round to taking her in to get fixed at the weekend, with a view to getting back on the saddle in the next few weeks. Now that the weather is improving and the evenings are getting lighter again, cycling to work is becoming a more enticing prospect, and I think I am about ready to tackle the psychological challenge. So I dropped Hedwig off at G-Whizz, a great little second-hand bike and repair shop down in Hove borders, which is also handily only a stone’s throw from my favourite café in Brighton & Hove, The Sanctuary. At first glance, the damage was apparently not too bad, but she will be given a good once-over, and I will be able to collect her next weekend. This was a small but significant step for me in getting over the whole ordeal, and now that plans are also afoot for a Hungarian dental trip, I’m starting to feel a lot more positive in general. A celebratory lunch at the aforementioned Sanctuary café was inevitable, as was a visit to Taj, the best ever food shop (in Brighton anyway), also just around the corner. The clement weather only served to reinforce this upbeat mood, and sunlight was streaming through the windows as I sipped my mango and passionfruit smoothie, and wolfed down a plate of delicious potato wedges with garlic mayonnaise.

Nikki and Shadow
An obliging Nikki, apparently mid-sentence, on the South Downs Way

A long overdue girlie night ensued on Saturday evening, with a trip to the Hanbury in Kemp Town for We ♥ Pop, the perfect cheesy night for one very excitable gay man and five willing fag-hags. We danced our little socks off to everything from Kylie to the Beatles, and enjoyed the laid back vibe of the refurbished venue (it was done up a while ago, but this was the first time I’d been since the change in ownership), complete with ironic wallpaper and an extremely well-stocked spirits bar. A remarkably hangover-free Sunday brought more delightful weather, and a chance to get out into the countryside. My photography homework this week was ‘portraits’, and Ant was very long-suffering in letting me take endless snaps of him sitting in trees, pausing at gates and even tucking into a hearty brunch from the little café in Stanmer village. The intense winter sun was perfect for capturing the surrounding colours of the countryside, already sporting the first signs of spring - with the odd crocus bursting up, and even blossom on some of the trees. Nikki joined us for a walk, giving Ant a break from the constant modelling, as I subjected her to some paparazzi action on the way up to Ditchling Beacon. Brian was waiting outside, keyboard in tow, when we arrived home, and we rehearsed for next weekend’s big wedding – my first same-sex civil ceremony – at which we shall be performing ‘Nobody Does It Better’, with tongue firmly in cheek. This pleasantly eventful weekend was rounded off with the hilariously bad Ghost Rider, starring a typically hammy Nicholas Cage, complete with dodgy toupee. It is certainly a strong contender for the ‘Top Ten Best Bad Films’ blog, which I’ve been thinking about for a while, and am now newly inspired to write, so watch this space.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Banter and Bayonets: Scott Matthew at Bush Hall

By far and away my favourite film of last year was Shortbus, a risqué alternative romantic comedy that explores the complicated relationships and sex lives of a bunch of New York misfits. From the same writer and director as one of mine and Ant's other favourite films (and shows), Hedwig & the Angry Inch, it was always destined to be a hit in our house. I loved the refreshingly upfront and un-contrived characters (played by largely unknown actors), who expose their darkest thoughts and fears in a series of intimate conversational scenes. There is also a lot, and I mean a LOT, of explicit sex, but it is by no means pornographic in the traditional sense. I had to try and explain this to my mother at Christmas, when she had purchased the DVD from my Amazon wishlist - initially oblivious, then subsequently shocked - as to its content. In fact, many of the sex scenes are extremely moving, sometimes hilariously funny and often just touchingly familiar.

One of the best things about Shortbus is the soundtrack; compiled from a relatively obscure assemblage of musicians; the songs often feel integral to the story, rather than simply accompanying it. The most predominant name on the soundtrack is Scott Matthew, who actually appears in the film as part of the house band at the 'Shortbus' club after which the film is titled. His emotive voice beautifully echoes the characters' bruised souls, reflecting moments of hope and despair with an impressive vocal range. In the absence of any other commercially available material, I have listened to the six Scott Matthew tracks from the Shortbus soundtrack relentlessly over the last few months, eagerly anticipating the release of his first solo album, due this March. My heart literally leapt when I saw on his myspace that there would be one UK date on the pre-album tour. It would mean going up to London, but my god, it would be worth it! The gig was last night, at Bush Hall a tiny Edwardian dancehall in W12 - all flaky ceilings and faded glory - but perfect for an intimate gig such as this - I can only imagine that St George's Church in Kemp Town could have been better.


A striking figure by virtue of his eccentric attire and untamed facial hair, an evidently jet-lagged Scott Matthew shuffles onto the stage in a manner that could easily be mistaken for pretentious aloofness, but soon transpires to be genuine awkward shyness. He looks, and sings, like someone who has experienced life's ups and downs perhaps a little more than most, and has taken it all rather to heart. My skin
is permanently tingling as he delivers one of the most haunting performances I have ever had the good fortune to attend (and I have been to a LOT of gigs) - at once fragile and determined; mellow and confrontational. The very opposite of 'easy' listening, but in the best possible way. The audience's warm reception seems to put Scott at ease, and a lovely rapport develops in which everyone is suddenly and joyfully aware that they are in the midst of a special and rare musical moment. The goosebumps turn to a lump in my throat, and then finally actual tears, with his final offering – a devastatingly heartfelt rendition of Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. Unable to move or speak for several minutes after the gig has finished, I feel exhilarated in the way one does after a good long sob.

Sadly I wasn't allowed to take photographs during the show, although this did mean that I had a totally undiluted gig experience for once. I couldn't resist taking one quick snap of the stage just before the performance though (see above), complete with a bottle of red wine which was then duly devoured during the set – only serving to endear this charming man to me even more.

Scott Matthew's self-titled debut album is OUT NOW on Glitterhouse Records: www.glitterhouserecords.co.uk

Scott Matthew on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2zXhAjYock

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pancakes!

So eager was I to eat my pancakes last night, that I completely forgot to take any photographs before wolfing them all down (with help from Mr M of course), so this account of our Shrove Tuesday conconctions will unfortunately be illustrated in words only. My history of pancake-making is a mixed affair, which has sometimes ended in disaster and disappointment, but I am pleased to report that this year's batch was particularly successful, no doubt due to the inspired addition of beer to the batter mix. Apparently this is a traditional method, and results in a lighter, and, I can now confirm, tastier, pancake. We usually make a whole batch and keep them warm in the oven before digging in, otherwise the poor chef has to stand at the cooker while the other person does all the eating - not my idea of fun (me being the chef). Fillings are then applied ad-hoc from a pre-assembled collection of sauces, toppings and appropriate accoutrements - the pinnacle of which this year was the winning combination of Ice Cream (vanilla Swedish Glace to be precise), advocaat and chocolate sauce. For years I had always dismissed advocaat as the kitsch tipple of 70s housewives, but have become a complete convert since a recent visit to Belgium, where it is generously added to all manner of desserts and drinks. The 'Snowball' cocktail (a mixture of advocaat, lemonade and lime) was a surprise hit at our Christmas party last year, when Tim described it as "like fizzy white chocolate" before knocking back several glasses of the stuff.

Now that I have seemingly mastered the art of the perfect crêpe, I intend not to limit their consumption to a once a year ritual, but to celebrate this simple yet versatile meal on a regular basis. I also think some ongoing research into further uses for advocaat would be more than justified.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

People, Finally

After two weeks in a row of landscapes, a subject about which I am generally quite photographically uninspired, I was finally allowed to shoot some actual people for my latest photography homework. The remit was to experiment with the various white balance settings on the camera, whilst also telling a story over 20 pictures. Since I was meeting up with the family on Saturday anyway, I thought it would be lovely to use them as the subject, and simply tell the story of a family meal round at Mum’s. I did get accused of being like the paparazzi as I was relentlessly snapping away over lunch, but it was worth the effort, as I ended up with a few good pictures, and got to know my camera a bit better in the process. Here are a few of my favourites:

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Retox Weekend

I never understand why so many people decide to detox by giving up booze right after Christmas. January is the most boring, cold and brassic month of the year, so staying sober just seems foolish to me. Much better to save one's dry month (if you must have one at all) until summer, when there's plenty else to do, and everything seems more fun to start with. So I was most perturbed when 'him indoors' announced on New Year's Day that he would be abstaining for the next four weeks. This may have made him feel very virtuous and wholesome, but it actually meant that I ended up drinking twice as much, since I find it almost impossible not to polish off a bottle of wine once opened. It felt like a long month for both of us, so I was most relieved when 1st February rolled around and I could gleefully thrust a beer into his hand and welcome him back to the land of the lush with open arms. This glad occasion also happened to coincide with a busy weekend of socialising that kicked off with the Concorde 2 21st birthday party on Friday and rolled into Damien's birthday on Saturday. The Concorde celebrations were most disappointing, and felt more like a sixth form leaver's ball than a swish corporate function at a top live music venue. I didn't even manage to get any decent photographs (except this one below). But Ant's euphoric reunion with beer thankfully distracted him from getting too agitated at the awfulness of it all, and we actually both enjoyed having a bit of a scathe before staggering back up the hill.


Son of Robot at Concorde 2

Saturday's far preferable jollities involved a session in the Regency, which always seems to lead to much singing and campery, followed by Ookey Ook at the Engine Room. I finally got to have a decent boogie (after several abortive attempts in the last few weeks) along to exactly my kind of music, and although the Engine Room unfortunately does smell pretty bad (I don't even want to consider of what), it has a certain seedy charm and is only a short walk from the Regency, a major bonus in such blustery weather as we are currently experiencing. Ookey Ook is a monthly night put on there by the same people who do Born Bad at Komedia, and they play similar sort of 50s/60s swing, soul, ska etc, but it's less girlie-centric. I'm not sure what time we stayed until, but I knew it was time to leave when the boys started doing a three-way pole dance that involved some rather disturbing mutual bum-slapping. See how much better life is under the influence of alcohol...


Brian, Ant & Tim - three-way pole dancing

Friday, February 01, 2008

Movie-going in Style

A trip to the Duke of York’s cinema always feels like a treat – with its cosy atmosphere, comfy seats and delicious homemade cakes, it stands a head and shoulders above Brighton’s other frankly soulless movie theatres. There’s even a lovely bar upstairs - possibly the nicest place to drink around Preston Circus – AND you can take your beer into the film with you. They have literally thought of everything to make movie-going an all-round pleasurable experience. The staff are always really chilled and friendly, and I will invariably spot a member or two of what I think of as my ‘Brighton Cultural Family’ - those familiar local faces (e.g. the bloke from Rounder Records, a percussionist from Carnival Collective) who I always seem to see whenever I go to see anything vaguely cultured. Yes, I am living the cliché, what of it?

Last night we were at this fine old Picturehouse seeing No Country For Old Men, the new Coen Brothers’ Film, about which I had heard mixed reports. Described by Philip French in the Guardian as “a thriller steeped in gore”, it certainly has an abundance of violence and bloodshed, along with the familiar dark humour and idiosyncratic characters that one has come to expect from the Coens. Tense and harrowing, it is a classic hide-and-seek pursuit in which the accidental finder of a significant stash of drug money - essentially a stubborn hick, is relentlessly hunted down by the self-appointed rightful owner of the cash - a quietly brutal killer with indignant determination. The incessant pace is occasionally alleviated by a secondary narrative strand in which a wonderfully craggy Tommy Lee Jones – the old school sheriff investigating the trail of fatalities – rather eloquently expresses his growing bewilderment at the state of modern morality and the changing role of the law. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen, the Wild West landscapes and intricate attention to detail are beautifully captured, making for a visually and well as psychologically memorable experience.

Photograph of the Duke of York's facade from Erasmus T on Flickr