Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 8:33 am  Comments (1)  

Highgate Cemetery

We went for a wander around Highgate Cemetery in the pouring rain on Friday. Here are a few of the more notable graves.













and of course…


Published in: on June 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hadrian’s Wall Run: Video

Here’s a short video of the run

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 7:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Hadrian’s Wall: Day Two

On Tuesday we undertook the second day of our Hadrian’s Wall run challenge. Day one had been difficult, due to my ongoing illness, and had really left us up against it on the second day – we had until around six ‘o’clock to finish, and where we had hoped to reach about 49 miles on day one, the time lost to various things (though mainly dashes into the bushes) meant we finished at around 41 miles. Nick also twisted his knee in a boggy field just at the end. We didn’t know how serious that would be until the next morning when it was clear he was in a lot of pain. I was also reduced to a slow pace to keep my guts in check, and we spent most of the second day at a walking pace – this put us at about 3 mph over the hilly middle section, and it rapidly became obvious we wouldn’t be able to get to Newcastle by evening. We ploughed on, eating up the miles at a steady rate – Housesteads, Brocolitia, Chollerford, Portgate… but once we got towards Wallhouses, Nick’s knees were becoming cripplingly painful. We’d had a lovely run of well maintained, relatively smooth grass surfaces, but on the way up to Harlow Hill we hit a series of waterlogged, boggy sections and heavy side-to-side gradients which knocked us out. We called in the support van (thanks again, Nic Sr.!) so Nick could try walking with poles, and we did the last few miles like that. Though progress had been slow on the day, we’d made almost thirty miles over some pretty hilly terrain at walking pace, and on top of the 41 miles on day one we feel like it was a decent achievement.

Nonetheless, it was frustrating not to be able to get to Wallsend. The time constraint, my illness and Nick’s knees all contributed to us ending up about twelve miles short or so. We’ll go back at some point to run that final stretch as soon as we can, but in the meantime we really hope nobody who sponsors us feels like we cheated or didn’t fulfil our attempt properly. Obviously if anyone is aggrieved let us know! Two other important points – first, and foremost, this was done to raise money for Refuge. As our donations page shows, we have reached around £1100 so far. Although it probably sounds trite, having Nick’s dad as our support team to come and help us when the pain got too much drove home exactly why I’d been running – there are hundreds of thousands of people with no support network who need Refuge to help them escape from domestic violence. Secondly, we had a good time – in spite of the pain, in spite of the indignity of dashing into the bushes every couple of miles, it was fun. The views were absolutely spectacular at points, and it was the first time I had really seen Hadrian’s Wall properly. Anyhow, here’s some photos from the two days. A video may follow later in the week…

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Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

I, one Snout by name, present a wall

Tomorrow morning myself and a friend will begin a two day run of Hadrian’s Wall. From Bowness in the west to Wallsend in the east, we will take in 84 miles of what looks to be beautiful, rugged country. It is a charitable endeavour – and if you feel moved to sponsor us, you may do so here, for Refuge – but I have come to love running in a strange and contradictory way. As training for this, I have done half-marathons in Leeds, St Albans, the Cotswolds and around Box Hill – places I didn’t know well, which thanks to running I now feel acquainted with. I also appreciate the time I get when on road or trail to think and to consider. While I know it wrecks my legs, it helps my brain for sure.

I feel underprepared of course – I have been for almost every run I’ve ever undertaken, from my first 10K three years ago to the pair of marathons I’ve done. My feet have been problematic, though I’ve sort of fixed that with a combination of exercises and better footwear; I’m a good stone overweight; my knees have been dodgy for since I hit my teens; and I can feel the sinister forewarnings of shin splints. In anticipation of crippling wear-and-tear I have brought a walking stick north with me.

I am looking forward to it though. Tomorrow we will try to run about fifty miles, with about thirty on Tuesday. We’ll be up in six hours’ time, clad in lycra, sipping coffee and gearing ourselves up for the days ahead. Let’s see how we get on.

Published in: on July 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Relatively simple East Kent rail idea?

If you stuck a double track chord (I think that’s what they’re called…) in just west of Canterbury between the Dover and Margate lines (see circle on left of map) you could run high speed trains from Ashford to Canterbury East (and then on to Dover on the standard tracks, should you wish, though there is presumably a good reason why they don’t go on from Faversham to Dover already). They’d already be slowing down to approach Canterbury so the junction wouldn’t be too disruptive.

Ashford - Canterbury East - Sandwich (click to embiggen)

In and of itself this might not add much value, but if the relatively short distance between Bekesbourne and Sandwich (around six miles I believe) were spanned – with possible intermediate stations at Wingham and Ash – then high speed or regular services could travel through to Sandwich and Deal, turning round there so as not to overload Dover. Deal used to be a terminus and is a wide-berth station, so probably has room for another platform/track in the middle I would think.

This would make an enormous improvement on journey times to Canterbury and London from Deal and Sandwich, and would provide train service to two intermediate towns and surrounding villages. Currently, from Sandwich it takes an astonishing 2hr20m to London on regular service and 1hr45m by high speed, as well as an hour to Canterbury (no direct train). There are a couple of HS trains which are direct in the early morning but even they clock in at 1hr30 and I suspect the line capacity after Dover might prevent running such a service all day. I’d estimate that a high speed train (56m London to Canterbury) would need a maximum of 20m more to reach Sandwich even on standard speed track (there are a few curves to take into account after Bekesbourne – this is just a suggested route and obviously hasn’t been surveyed or anything!).

Obviously an alternative would be to double the curve which links the Ramsgate-Canterbury and Ramsgate Sandwich lines at Minster, but the journey would be longer and again I imagine track capacity would be an issue (and there would be no benefit for intermediate towns). A further benefit of the method above would be to give the Sandwich-Deal area much simpler linkage with Faversham-Medway too.

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Walk in the Park

Went to visit a good pal who’s recovering from a serious illness yesterday. We had a lovely walk in the Richmond Park and then down to the river – here’s some photos:

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Published in: on March 29, 2012 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Exmoor, Porlock and Minehead

A slideshow of some non-music photos from the weekend

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Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

ATP: The Mangum Edition (pt.III)

Moderation on Saturday night was rewarded with the aforementioned fried breakfast, albeit a day late. We decided to start our musical day at 4.30 with Lost in the Trees, so there was plenty of time for a yomp out to the moors. We drove off through Dunster and parked up near Dunkery Beacon, meandering up to Somerset’s highest point on foot and lounging for a while in the sun. There was incredible dense cloud all over the coast – Minehead was cloaked in thick grey fog as we left – but it was gloriously sunny up on the high ground.

From Dunkery Beacon

After that we drove down the Exe valley to Dulverton and gorged ourselves at the Bridge Inn (highly recommended) before winding back up the western side of Exmoor to Exford and then on to Porlock. After tea and cake, we hot-footed it back to Minehead where the thick fog remained – not having lifted, we assumed, since the morning.

Butlins peeking through the fog

So back to the music, and we raced over to Crazy Horse for Lost in the Trees. Though we only made it for twenty minutes, they were comfortably the standout ‘discovery’ of the weekend for me. I say ‘discovery’ because (like the astonishingly prolific Mount Eerie) they’ve been around a good while doing their thing – I just didn’t know about it. And I would describe their thing as a stripped-down, more avant-garde expedition into similar territory to Arcade Fire. A largeish but not unwieldy lineup of talented multi-instrumentalists (quite a common occurrence these days, isn’t it?), LITT create strongly melodic pieces with plenty going on underneath, and seem to explore grey areas between melody, counter-melody and harmony (counter-harmony?!) to great effect. One memorable sonic trope was the doubling up of violin and high voice; the frisson comes from the difficulty in finding the line where one ends and the other begins while knowing both are producing notes in the same range. The textures weren’t overly lush but were full and always intriguing, with some unusual combinations (and the unexpected appearance of a French Horn!), while the songwriting ranged across bleak (though ultimately very human) themes.

Lost in the Trees

It was upstairs next for the Magic Band. I didn’t really know what to expect as my knowledge of Beefheart is concentrated on that one totemic album, Trout Mask Replica. It was actually a great gig: Feelers Rebo and Eric Klerks traded slide riffs and took turns to show off their blues chops; Rockette Morton kept up a constantly mobile bass barrage; and drummer Craig Bunch gave them all a solid basis on which to work, bursting through where invited with some raunchy fills. On vocals, and at times doing an uncanny channeling of the Captain, Drumbo strutted around in full declamatory pomp, taking the sticks for one song and showing how he got his nickname. Sometimes there was an element of chin-stroking indulgence but on the whole it was a lot of fun.

Psych-Blues from the Magic Band

We stuck around at Centre Stage for the Sun Ra Arkestra, which like the Magic Band is an entity birthed from a now-departed prophet. This was another of the weekend’s standout shows, for while it feels like the Arkestra have toned down some of the wilder space-jazz of their early days – indeed, this was more like experimental big band with some free jazz interludes – they came up with an hour of wonderful performance. In fact it’s really sui generis because there’s some fusion bass going on and also – especially in Marshall Allen’s use of the EVI – something deeply proggy. The visual spectacle has always been part of the show with the Arkestra and here they glistened under the lights like space gods, though since Sun Ra himself ascended I’m not sure how seriously they take all that. Standout players were Allen (usually on sax rather than EVI), young pianist Fariz Abdul-Bari Barron  and the extraordinary Knoell Scott who danced (breakdanced wouldn’t be a stretch) like a man possessed. In truth though, the SRA is far more than the sum of its parts; a festival theme is emerging of holistic musical experiences and like Boredoms, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Joanna Newsom – even the Fall – this was about the wall of sound; also this show had the distinction of being second only to Group Doueh in sheer danceability.

Sun Ra Arkestra

After that, I stuck it out for about quarter of an hour of the Magnetic Fields but it really wasn’t my cup of tea. I found their amusing clever-clever cabaret schtick a bit cloying, and for all of the lovely arrangements, the Neil Hannon identikit vocals and raised eyebrow lyrics were a bit precious. Instead we gradually drifted down to Tall Firs. They were pretty good, maybe a little the worse for wear by the time we got there, but engaging enough. They played some beautiful guitar, like some of the quieter moments of Slint or something else Pajo-ish, but the very mannered vocals got a little wearing. I’d actually forgotten that they did Too Old to Die Young, which I have a vague recollection of having liked for a while. Anyhow, I’m not dashing out to buy their albums but I enjoyed the set and particularly the instrumental mix which was rather lovely.

Tall Firs

I’d taken a bit of an attitude towards Jeff Mangum from the start as I (perhaps unfairly) associated the poor scheduling and somewhat thin line-up of this ATP to his caprice, but I got even more annoyed by the strictures around his sets – ‘no cameras, cameras will be confiscated if used’ signs everywhere, an insistence on emptying the large venue and then refilling it with enormous queues, a late-in-the-day delay to his set – it all smacked of an egotistical diva (or someone wracked with worry, which in fairness, he may be). I like the stuff I’ve heard by Neutral Milk Hotel but I wasn’t bothered enough for it to outweigh the diva-like behaviour which is precisely the opposite of what ATP seems to me to be all about. I didn’t even try, then, to get in to see him. I plumped for Group Doueh downstairs in Reds. Yet the Spirit of Mangum even pervaded my experience of that show, as due to his (again very last minute) worry about noise from downstairs, we were all locked out queuing for half an hour until he had finished up on the Centre Stage. I don’t know if it was him or his management or the organisers responsible for all this, but it was really poor. Anyhow, it meant I could only see half of Group Doueh as I had to be up at five to drive home (whinges over), but that half hour of Western Saharan joy was one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. Bamaar Salmou is incredible on guitar – as several people pointed out he’s probably quite influenced by Santana, but his impassive delivery gives him an almost surrealist air. The vocals and drums were tremendous too, and while there are some slight echoes of Tinariwen – moreso Tiris actually – Group Doueh have made their own sound and it’s just brilliant. Like LITT this band were completely new to me and one I will most definitely explore further.

Group Doueh

Overall it was a cracking weekend. The lineup was noticeably thinner than my previous visit (see here for parts one two three and four of that write-up) but the quality was consistently good. Sunday night ended up probably being my favourite, but highlights for the weekend were as follows:

Hall of Fame (Music):

1. Joanna Newsom 2. Group Doueh 3. Lost in the Trees

Hall of Fame (Total experience):

1. Joanna Newsom 2. Boredoms 3. Sun Ra Arkestra

Hall of Meh:

1. Magnetic Fields 2. The Apples in Stereo 3. Jeff Mangum (in absentia)

Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 10:06 am  Leave a Comment  

ATP: The Mangum Edition (pt.I)


I returned today to London along the fog-clad lateral trunk that is the M4 having spent the weekend immersed in the fascinating (if uneven) Jeff Mangum-curated edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins, rescheduled from its original December date. Here are some thoughts and pictures on the music and other excitements of the last few days.


Matana Roberts, performing with Seb Rochford

We didn’t arrive until early evening on Friday, too late for the first couple of acts but in time for a mesmerising set from Matana Roberts, with drums from Seb Rochford of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear fame. They made for a beguiling combination, Rochford barely breaking through a polite (though no less delicious for it) experimentalism which kept his explosive tendencies in check. This allowed Roberts to explore a vast range of tones and dynamics on saxophone, equally comfortable producing a classically-perfect richness or a swampy, liquid rasp. Great stuff, though the feeling of ephemerality often associated with improvisation was only made stronger by the unique setting.

Young Marble Giants

Young Marble Giants were next, and the contrast between their colossal youth and their actual existence was palpable. Not age but demeanour seemed to define them as tourists on a trip through their own pasts, but they breathed life into every rediscovered song. They looked sometimes utterly cool, sometimes vulnerable and sometimes amused, sounding at all times that delicate balance of teenage bedroom, bus shelter and boardwalk. N.I.T.A. – here in its 1980 vintage – was particularly wonderful, a bizarre coach trip soundtrack perfect for an imagined early Reeves and Mortimer effort.

The Fall

An exquisite twenty minutes of Joanna Newsom – of whom more in the next installment – was followed by The Fall. Now, I had been perhaps more excited by seeing the latest merry band of pirates assembled by Captain Mark E. Smith than anything else at this festival, but as a cautionary tale I must alert you to the dangers posed by the Exmoor Beast. I was rendered a gibbering fool by this delicious, treacly brew and the hour of thumping declamatory rock ranting passed in a flash. None of my all-time favourite Fall tracks had appeared until the final offering, a glorious pound through Theme from Sparta F.C. We live on blood indeed.

Problem was I had a hell of a thirst on

I had one more act in me before I hit the sack, and it must have taken something special from Thurston Moore to keep me vertical. I’d like to say I remember ringing, rangy guitars, shuffling drums and fragile eternally-youthful vocals, but all I really remember is promising everyone I would be up at eight to make a cooked breakfast and drive us up on to the moors. You may surmise how that went. Sonic Youth are among my heroes but I will need to pay their (former) members reverent homage some other time I’m afraid… (to be contd.)

Thurston Moore

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 12:09 am  Comments (2)  
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