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Thursday, 17 December 2020

My Sad Captains by Thom Gunn

My Sad Captains

By Thom Gunn, English, 1929 - 2004

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and   
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!   
but before they fade they stand   
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a   
cloak of chaos. They were men   
who, I thought, lived only to   
renew the wasteful force they   
spent with each hot convulsion.   
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet, 
but now that they are indeed   
apart, winnowed from failures, 
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested   
hard energy, like the stars.

 Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1994)

 “One by one they appear in the darkness”. In this rather unusual poem Thom Gunn is comparing friends and figures from history to the stars in the sky. They still shine there but they don’t serve any useful purpose. The “sad captains” can no longer have any meaningful role attributed to them. The title is taken from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra:

“Let’s have one other gaudy night. Call to me

All my sad captains. Fill our bowls once more.

Let’s mock the midnight bell.”

But why captains? Captains could be those who steer us to our destinations as the leader of the ship. It might also be referring to these people as having once been seen as role models. There is some evidence that Gunn had in mind those such as Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Caravaggio and even Napoleon Bonaparte. Quite a mix! He was an admirer of Jean-Paul Sartre which chimes in with the existentialist attitude in this poem.

I'm listening to the original version of Walk Away Renée as written and recorded by The Left Banke in 1966! Listen here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

2020: My Year on Spotify

I have been using the Music App Spotify for about 12 years, even before it was generally available to the public, (through a friend in the music industry). They have just sent me a list of the 100 songs that I played most in the last 12 months. 

At number TEN is Thirteen by Big Star.  Very underrated group featuring Chris Bell. Listen here.

NINE is The Kiss by Judee Sill, Listen here. Fabulous, tragic, artist. Blog post coming.

EIGHT is A Man of Constant Sorrow by Sharon Shannon with Jackson Browne. Listen here. She invited guests on her Galway Girl album.

SEVEN is And Your Bird Can Sing by The Beatles. Listen here.

SIX is It's All Over Now Baby Blue by Bob Dylan. Listen here.

FIVE is City Girls by J J Cale. Listen here. Passed away in 2013.

FOUR is Stormy Weather by Etta James. Listen here. Even beats Ella!

THREE is Memphis by Faces. Listen here.

TWO is You Ain't Going Nowhere by Bob Dylan. Listen here.

And at NUMBER ONE is Roll on Babe by Ronnie Lane. Listen here.

I have dozens of favourite songs and this list isn't necessarily the top ten just those I have played the most. My next post will be a selection from the remaining 90 tunes!

Friday, 27 November 2020

Painting of the Month (95) November 2020: Cave Painting

CAVE ART, generally meaning the paintings and engravings found in caves and shelters dating back to the Ice Age, roughly between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, is generally considered to have a symbolic or religious function, sometimes both. The exact meanings of the images remain unknown, but some experts think they may have been created within the framework of shamanic beliefs and practices. A shaman would have been someone believed to have access to good and evil spirits.

Most cave art consists of paintings made with either red or black pigment made from iron oxide, manganese oxide and charcoal and about 400 are known of in several European countries and also in Indonesia. The majority of the paintings (and some sculptures) depict mostly animals and a few

humans. Sometimes a head or genitalia are shown and also outlines of hands. Birds and fish were rarely depicted.These works were not made by ‘cavemen’ although they are usually found in caves, but by modern humans Homo sapiens, anatomically identical to us today.

Recent studies have been made of the numerous geometric signs, though the specific types vary based on the time period in which the cave was painted and the cave’s location. A remarkable realisation was that a range of 32 different signs repeated themselves over and over across the entire European continent over a period of thirty thousand years! That means that the symbols must have been meaningful to the people who were using them because of the replication. It has also been hypothesised that this use of symbols led to the creation of written languages.

These discoveries have overturned the conventional timeline of humans and art pushing back the ‘first art’ to pre-human times in Europe and suggesting there may have been a continuation that came ‘out of Africa’!

I'm listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic. It's a truly magical song and an ever-lasting joy! Listen here.

"It's too late to stop now..." 

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Albert Shamplin Centenary

We have just celebrated the centenary of my late father, Albert. This picture was taken in Belgium during the war when he would have been about 22. On the back the picture bears a stamp that says, 'Photo Leonard, Bruxelles' with a phone number. Someone asked me if I had ever phoned that number. I said ,"What kind of idiot would ever do that?".....OK, I have.

I have a box of old photo's in which there is a letter to Dad from a lady in Belgium. I'm surprised that the letter has not spontaneously combusted! Hot....

My sister and I are convinced we have an older sibling in Belgium.

He was a very good ballroom dancer and especially liked the Latin-American stuff. I'm listening to Perry Como singing Papa Loves Mambo, one of his favourites. Listen here!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Painting of the Month (94) October 2020: Lionel Smit

I don’t think I’ve included any African artists in this series before now. I don’t have a title or much information for this painting but I think there is a deep psychological element to it. The subject has incredibly sad eyes and there is hurt and pain behind them. I do know that the artist quotes Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud as his favourites. I think the use of impasto (heavy layering of paint with palette knife or brush) can be seen here and that’s evident in the work Francis Bacon and particularly Lucian Freud. You can clearly see the brush-marks the artist has made and that’s something I like in this kind of picture. Compare it, for example, with work of the Dutch masters where brush marks are never visible.

I found a quote about this painter and sculptor: “Each of Lionel Smit’s works offers us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath every face we encounter, whether in life, in bronze or in paint”. I have shown some more of his work below.

I'm listening to some old Beatles recordings. How well they have stood the test of time, even the 'throw away' stuff! Currently it's Every Little Thing. You can here it here.


Sunday, 13 September 2020

Come From Away

COME FROM AWAY is a Canadian musical based on the true story of what happened in 2001 when Islamic terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York City and 38 planes were diverted to Gander in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada. Gander had a population of 10,000 which was swelled, with no notice, by another 7,000 for the ensuing week.

My daughter and future son-in-law were on a plane approaching New York at the time. Their aircraft was turned around and sent back to Heathrow, London. If they had been ten minutes earlier, they too would have been diverted to Gander, who did a miraculous job of hosting their unexpected guests.

Leah and I were lucky enough to be at the final preview when the show opened in London in February 2019. To our surprise we discovered that two of the main real-life characters who were being portrayed on stage were sitting next to us. And they pointed out that we were actually surrounded by most of the real-life characters and the creator and original producer were sitting behind us!

Nick and Diane who met in Gander and have been married ever since.
The show is still running in London and is a beautiful musical event. This is my favourite song from the show, which I found very emotional.LISTEN HERE

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Painting of the Month (93) September 2020: August Macke


August Macke (1887 – 1914) was one of the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). He lived during a particularly innovative time for German art which saw the development of the main German Expressionist movements as well as the arrival of the successive avant-garde movements which were forming in the rest of Europe.

August Macke was inspired by the leisure activities of his fellow citizens, and captured shopping trips on numerous occasions. This painting from 1914 features the standard style used throughout his career - relatively small use of detail, concentrating more on bright and bold colour. This expressionist approach was relatively new during the early 20th century but is now a well-accepted thoroughbred of art history. Most of his paintings of shoppers capture them looking through the windows of stores, rather than actually inside. They would always be well dressed, presumably wealthy. Leisure time was something that not everyone could enjoy at that time. The Victorian age marked major changes across European society and artists like this provide a window into that time. In truth, most of Macke’s success was due to the bright, expressionist style of his work, rather than the content included. Sadly, this was to be one of the artist's final artworks, with his life soon being lost in the First World War. It was later seized at around the time of WW2 because of the artist's relatively modern style which did not find favour with the Third Reich. Here are some other paintings he made:

I'm listening to Carole King singing her own song, I wasn't Born to Follow

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Some more laughs!

Here are some more of the laughs I have published on my Facebook page:

I'm listening to the wonderful cover of Denny Laine's song Say You Don't Mind by Colin Blunstone with a lovely string quartet accompaniment. 

Listen here:

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Julian Bream 1933 - 2020


Julian Alexander Bream 1933 - 2020

The classical guitarist, Julian Bream, who passed away last week at the age of 87, was the first truly great British classical guitarist making his debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1951 where he announced his presence to the world. At the age of eleven he heard a recording of Andre Segovia and fell in love with the instrument. Segovia had dragged the instrument from relative obscurity and raised it to a genuine concert instrument with contemporary composers vying to offer new works. Bream continued the work and simultaneously promoted the lute in a similar way.

He was a very expressive player and this compared with his near contemporary, John Williams (born Melbourne, Australia 1941) who was, technically the better player (Segovia had said of Williams that ”God has laid his finger on his brow.”)

However, Bream had a flair and emotional connection to his music that I don’t think Williams displays. As a 17 year-old student of the guitar I met John Williams when he gave a concert at the Commonwealth Institute in London. He approached me in the queue and asked me what time the concert started. I told him and we chatted for a while. As he walked away, my friend told me who he was. I had no idea!

Julian Bream at 85

Bream retired from performing in 2002. Unlike many of his professional colleagues, he had a wide range of interests outside of music. He was passionate about cricket and was a member of the MCC. He was also a formidable table tennis player. Apart from his interests in gardening and his famously well-stocked wine cellar, the visual arts were a constant stimulation – he had a fine collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century English and Scottish paintings – and he was a well-informed collector of English period furniture. The companionship of his dogs became increasingly important to him, particularly after a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1998, when his doctors recommended a routine of regular exercise. Thereafter he became a familiar sight on the North Dorset Downs, striding along with his beautiful flat-coated retrievers at heel.

Listen to Julian Bream playing Cadiz (from the Iberia Suite by Albeniz)

Go on, treat yourself!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Song by Ben Jonson

           to Celia
     By BEN JONSON (1572-1637)
Ben Jonson | English writer | Britannica
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
         And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
         And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
         I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
         Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
         It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
         And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
         Not of itself, but thee.

Although more famous as a song, this poem, first published in 1616, is by far the best-known work of the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson.

The first half of the poem is a witty series of variations on the lover’s pledge. Traditionally, a lover would toast his or her love and drink a glass of wine; here, the poet asks only for a pledge from Celia’s eyes—a loving look—that he promises to return in kind. He says that if she leaves a kiss in the cup, he will have no need for the wine but we can’t be sure how much Celia likes the speaker. The thirst that he mentions in line five is not literal but for love.
He tells us about how he sent her a wreath of flowers once, but she returned it. Even though she returned it, it never wilted. Somehow, Celia breathing on the wreath has given it eternal life.
There is a marked contrast between the first and second stanza. In the first one the poet is making light-hearted and witty remarks to the lady he admires but the second one becomes more serious. The rejected wreath he has sent is something more concrete.

I'm listening to Landslide by the Dixie Chicks. I think it's better than the Fleetwood Mac original version. Have a listen here!

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

REPOST from January 2014: The Raft of the Medusa. Géricault

The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault 1791-1824
Completed 1819, oil on canvas. 16 x 23ft. (it's big!)
This painting is possibly more interesting for it's non-art elements than for the art work itself. In 1818 Théodore Géricault was a young man trying to build an artistic reputation but the innovation of this work is that it depicted a recent, true event.
'History painting' is a genre in art that was dominant from the sixteenth century. It was intended to have moral or didactic overtones and usually depicted stories from the Bible, mythology or literature. It was only history in the sense of having a story or narrative and usually depicts a certain single point from that narrative. These paintings were often very large and this one is on a larger-than-life scale. It was viewed as the most important genre at that time and seen as the pinnacle of an artist's career.
In 1816 the French frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Senegal. The story that followed was one of 15 survivors left on a hurriedly constructed raft after 13 days at sea experiencing starvation, dehydration and....cannibalism. There was political outrage because an inexperienced captain had been appointed through his good connections rather than his skill.
Géricault had conducted extensive research before starting to paint and had visited morgues to get the decaying flesh tones right. His scheme worked and the controversial first showing of this painting in Paris catapulted him to fame and it was soon shown in London with similar success. It greatly divided the critics some of whom did not want to be 'repelled' by a 'heap of bodies' and thought that this could not be art.
On the other hand he was praised (by others) for showing a negro at the focal point of the picture. The triangular composition raising upwards to the right indicating the hopes of the survivors as a distant ship is seen on the horizon. The ship didn't see them and passed by. I think I can just make out a tiny point on the horizon. Earlier studies for the painting do clearly show a large vessel .
There were ten survivors from the Méduse. Géricault died five years later at the young age of 32. His painting lives on as an icon of French Romanticism. 
You can just about see the ship on the horizon in this detail.
I'm listening to the adagio from Khatchaturian's Spartacus played by the London Symphony Orchestra also known as the Theme from The Onedin LineListen here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The Secret Sits by Robert Frost

Robert Frost
It’s just a rhyming couplet really but these lines by Robert Frost have so many possible meanings. It seems to be referring to a children's game but it is a serious 'grown-up' piece. I think Frost was saying something about this world from a religious point of view; we are all dancing in a circle contemplating life while, in the centre, the ‘secret’ is God, the only one knows the truth behind everything that exists. “We”, the poet and the reader, can only try to imagine the meaning.

It could also be interpreted as saying that we, individually, can interpret the world and the true reality of life as we see fit based on our own experiences and morality. The Secret is personified (by having a capital letter) and no one on the outside will ever gain access because it will forever remain unknown and the poem itself is a secret because it's real meaning is hidden from us.
I'm listening to a song that always makes me feel good: Two of Us by The Beatles. Listen to it here.