Monday, July 29, 2013

Imagined Village " 'Ouses, 'Ouses, Ouses" (2012)

This is a song rather than an album. It came my way on a friend's end of year compilation and I have also heard it on the radio.

I am talking about this song because I hate it. I do not know who exactly these Imagined Village people are, but they seem to be making some kind of combination of folkie tunes and modern electonic instrumentation, with a vague nod towards dance music (I keep expecting a shuffle beat to appear on this one). " 'Ouses, 'Ouses, 'Ouses" features some old guy going on about how everything was different when he was a lad - he had to walk for miles through the fields to get from his home to go to school and was always worrying about the bailiff catching him in the master's orchard or something. And now when he looks around where there used to be fields it's all "houses, houses, houses" (the song title drops the H to make clear that the man is from a region).

Why do I hate this song? Well, because it is unoriginal anti-modern faux pastoral nostalgic bollocks, inviting us to hark back to a shit time in the past when people were dirt poor and were unable to enjoy the benefits of a modern industrial society. For all that I think there are supposedly progressive people mixed up in this Imagined Village thing (another track by them seems to feature Billy Bragg), it is peddling an unsavoury reactionary world view and inviting us to return to a world where people were poor but happy because they knew their place.

Why not listen to it yourself? You will probably like it.

An inuit panda production

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Night at the Concert Hall

My beloved and I went to the National Concert Hall to attend a concert. As we arrived we saw that a red carpet had been rolled out. "Oh, you shouldn't have!" I said, before being shoved roughly over to a side entrance. Once inside, rumour revealed that the President would be joining us for what was going to be the last concert of the National Symphony Orchestra's latest season.

In the auditorium there was the usual palaver as the orchestra came onstage - and then a very exciting moment as the President came to sit in his special seat while the orchestra played a mini version of the national anthem. After that it was straight into the real action.

First up it was Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. I was not sure I had ever heard it before, but once it started I remembered it as the opener of that dreadful Hooked on Classics record and was half expecting a primitive drum machine beat to kick in. Thankfully this did not happen. Instead we got Kirill Gerstein giving us great piano. He also did great piano faces, which was just as well as the low angle of our seats meant that the piano obscured much of the rest of the orchestra from our view.

And when they had finished that, Mr Gerstein treated us to an encore of more piano stuff from Rachmaninov. I do not think I have ever seen an encore at the Concert Hall before, so I was excited.

After the interval, the main event was Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. This work is one of the great come-backs in history. Previous to it, Shosty had written the score for the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, but Stalin had taken a dislike to its dischordant rhythms. Pravda ran an editorial denouncing the work, with the wonderful title of "Muddle Instead of Music" and Shostakovich found himself in big trouble. The 5th Symphony (apparently billed by Shostakovich as "a Soviet artist's response to justified criticism") was his attempt to write music that would find official favour while at the same time remaining true enough to his artistic vision.

I am not particularly familiar with this piece, though I realise now that I have heard it before. It opens with stirring chords sampled to great effect on Morrissey's 'The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils' and I think also it was played as a soundtrack to a screening of The Battleship Potemkin some years ago.

With the first two movements of this I did find myself thinking that if this how discordant Shostakovich would go when trying to play nice then maybe Stalin had a point with Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. The music also has that generally stirring quality I associate with Shotakovich's symphonic works and the music of the mid 20th century.

The third movement slows everything down and was apparently considered so sadface when the piece premiered that people wept in their seats while it played - with the music bringing to mind the victims of Stalin's Red Terror, then at its height. The poignant association with the Terror may or may not have been intended by Shostakovich. He certainly was not so stupid as to ever to say to anyone that his intention was to memorialise Stalin's victims, but the association probably helped him in retrospect as the mournfulness of this section allows him to escape accusations of churning out up-tempo kitsch for the regime.

The final movement is all bombastic fanfare and makes for a great end to the piece. Some have said that this is Shostakovich attempting to parody the stock forms of socialist realist music. There is no real way of knowing this and even if there was it is a question that is no longer directly relevant to ourselves. I found myself responding to the piece more directly, as a suitably climactic end to a great evening of music.

The concert was also the last performance of violinist Alan Smale as its leader. He has been a key part of performances by the National Symphony Orchestra for as long as I can remember, so seeing him go does mark the end of an era. I gave him one of my rare standing ovations.


Shostakovich image
Muddle instead of Music

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tyrannosaurus Rex was very, very fierce, discover scientists

The Tyrannosaurus Rex is the famous monster predator dinosaur. It walked on its hind legs, had stumpy little front legs whose purpose (if any) is somewhat mysterious, and had a huge mouth full of teeth. In the popular imagination, it was a top-level predator that went around chasing and eating any of the other big herbivore dinosaurs it could catch.

Some scientists, however, turned against this view. They took to arguing that the Tyrannosaurs Rex could not have been this kind of predator. Instead, they saw it more as a giant scavenger, a carrion feeder who would lumber around until it had found an animal that had died of natural causes or been taken down by smaller and nimbler predators. The Tyrannosaurus would then tuck in. These kill-joy scientists are no doubt associates of the others who argue that the giant winged dinosaurs were only able to glide and could not truly fly.

However, a recent discovery seems to have established that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was a top-level predator after all and no pathetic scavenger. Palaeontologists working in South Dakota found the fossilised skeleton of a Hadrosaur, a large Cretaceous herbivore, with the tooth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex embedded in its spine. It appeared that the Tyrannosaurus had attacked the Hadrosaur and bitten into its back, whereupon the tooth had come loose, but the herbivore escaped and survived the encounter.

This finding seems to prove that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was a hunting animal. Like any hunter, it would eat carrion if it found it, but it would also attack other animals, albeit not always with success.


T rex tooth found embedded in prey, restoring dinosaur's reputation

A near miss for a Tyrannosaurus rex: evidence of failed predation

"Her Pack of Tyrannosaurs Came Screeching to Her Side!" (image source)

Monday, July 22, 2013

I rediscover analogue photography

ColdSome time ago I read about this photography movement called Lomography. It takes its name from an old camera called the Lomo that originated in the Soviet Union. Lomography is a reaction to the slickness of digital photography and the faux retro of photography websites like Instagram. Instead of taking pictures on a digital camera and using software to make the results look old and interesting, Lomography enthusiasts try for similar results by using old-fashioned and characterful film cameras. They have branched out from the Lomo to other brands of cheap and cheerful cameras, including such brands as Holga and Diana (both originally from Hong Kong).

Wicklow StreetFor all that the world has largely embraced digital cameras, Lomography enthusiasts are not the only people still using analogue cameras. What distinguishes Lomography people from other users of analogue cameras is the embrace of cheap and quirky cameras that are unpredictable in their results.

ShelbourneI am interested in photography, albeit in a very amateurish kind of way, and I was interested in Lomography as soon as I read about it. So I bought a Holga 120FN from a Dublin camera shop (mainly because it was least complicated Lomography camera they had). This is a plastic camera of great simplicity, completely lacking in electronics. Everything has to be done manually, from focussing to winding on the film. That means it does not use batteries, unless you want to use the built-in flash. It is extremely light (being made of cheap plastic) but it is also surprisingly bulky, which means I have not been carrying it around with me as much as I should and took quite a while to fill a roll of film. But I did eventually. The photographs here are ones I took with it. The rest of my first roll is visible in a set on Flickr.

St. Patrick's CathedralI was pleasantly surprised by the pictures from the first roll - no double exposures, none that were ridiculously out of focus, or anything like that. This had made me interested in further exploring what the Holga can do. More fun beckons.


The pictures of my Holga's first roll of film


Did the Lomo camera save film photography? (BBC; probably where I first heard about this Lomography business)

John Gunn camera shop (where I bought my Holga)

An inuit panda production

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Good news for Farne Puffins

Puffins always look a bit sad and in recent years the Puffins of the Farne Islands have had plenty to be sad about - Puffin censuses had shown an alarming decline in their numbers, from 55,000 breeding pairs in 2003 to just 37,000 in 2008. But the latest census shows that the little fellows have now increased their numbers back to 40,000 pairs, despite difficult conditions last winter.

David Steel, head ranger of Farne Islands, suggests that the secure breeding habitat his team have secured, together with a plentiful supply of food in the area, have done much to help the Puffins. A look at the map, however, draws attention to the islands' proximity to the small town of Seahouses. In the last few years, this is where singing weekends have been hosted in winter months by popular folk group the Unthanks. Can it be just coincidence that Puffin numbers have increased in years that have seen people gathering on the beaches across from their islands to sing sea shanties in three part harmonies?


A frank account of the various occurrences at an Unthanks Singing Weekend: part 1, part 2.

Monday, July 15, 2013

More pictures

Timetable of Rock

Timetable of Rock.

Walking the cygnets

Swan Patrol.

Dog waiting patiently

Waiting patiently.



Suspicious character

Suspicious character.

Illegal posters

Illegal posters.

Lost Cat

Cat lost.

stag beetle



Wake up, sheeple!

INLA Childcare

INLA Childcare


Saturday, July 13, 2013

My life in photos

Peadophile Party

Beware the World Wide Peadophile Army.


Penguin says smile.




We are hungry.

Hanwell Asylum

The Asylum.

vole autobahn

Vole ladders.



famine memorial


Everyone loves the swans

Popular swans.


Monday, July 01, 2013

PJ Harvey "Let England Shake" (2011)

I went off P.J. Harvey after seeing her play a gig at Glastonbury with a load of session muso gobshites from central casting and then listening to the Uh Huh Her album and thinking it had nothing going for it. People told me the White Chalk album was worth getting but it was over for me. Then the Let England Shake album came out and people said that was good too, but I wasn't having it - you can't go back, I said.

But now I have cracked. And this record is brilliant. You probably already know this so I will not say too much about it. The lyrics are about War and The State Of Britain Today and that kind of thing, though they are bit too poetic and allusive to have a very specific message even if this is always described as a political album. The music has an appealing looseness, with some guitary stuff and also a fair amount of Ms Harvey playing the autoharp.

The whole album is endlessly fascinating, but the big track here is 'The Last Living Rose', a song that begins with the lines 'Goddamn Europeans / Take me back to beautiful England' before running through all the ways England has gone to shit, combined with a subtle variant of the classic P.J. Harvey guitar sound. It is the kind of song to which I can endlessly re-listen.

One of the more bizarre things I found on the internet through This Is My Jam was a recording of P.J. Harvey on the Andrew Marr programme playing 'The Last Living Rose' to David Cameron. I encourage you to seek it out, and to also seek out Let England Shake if you have not done so already.

image source (Guardian)

And did I mention This Is My Jam? If you do not know what it is, click here. And here is me on This Is My Jam

An inuit panda production