Mists and mellow fruitfulness

The sun was shining only a minute or two ago, brightening the front yard, a few apples still hanging from the tree, nasturtiums hanging on and one or two roses still imminent. Wind and rain are forecast for most of the week. And everything is getting back into gear.

Choir resumes tonight in Horbury, hopefully with a sufficient turn-out of keen singers and a selection of new songs to attack. Tomorrow a lunchtime concert at the Cathedral in Wakefield with Julia Mills, sax and piano/accordion, a broad selection of tunes (Parker/Bacharach/Metheny/Bach etc) and a big reverb. And Wakefield Jazz returns on Friday night with Empirical, hopefully attracting a crowd, along with the usual punters, the food, the bookstall, the raffle, the je-ne-sais-quoi ambience of the Sports Club bar.

Yesterday we went to listen to Jess Phillips MP promoting her new book, mildly diverting – perhaps hoping for more from such a direct speaker. Looking forward to a local Labour meeting on Thursday night to decide whether to recommend our sitting MP (since 1996) for automatic reselection or whether to encourage him to justify his continued selection more dynamically – and also to choose a shortlist for potential local council candidates next spring, seeing as last year’s guinea pig/footsoldier/victim has resisted a second opportunity to stand.

Autumn – it’s full of new beginnings!

I came across a book by Miles Okazaki (interesting New York guitarist on the Pi record label) on the Fundamentals of Guitar – it’s satisfyingly cosmic and all-embracing in its approach, as I hoped it would be (as a non-guitarist). I was hoping for an insight into the world of hip contemporary off-the-wall NY “jazz” musicians (post-rock perhaps, rather than jazz) and it fits the bill – lots of discussion of the harmonic partials of each individual string, pentatonics and tritones, complex exercises, and then moving on to rhythm/s. It’s rare to find sufficient and new food for thought. NB anything on the Pi label is worth exploring, particularly Henry Threadgill of course, but also Steve Coleman, Jen Shyu, Liberty Ellman, and the most recent Art Ensemble of Chicago recording also. Firehouse 12 would be the other most exciting USA label, if you were to ask me – Mary Halvorson, Myra Melford, Taylor Ho Bynum.

There is no such thing as a “genius grant” in the UK, but I was glad to see one awarded to Mary Halvorson last week – everything she does needs to be listened to. $625000 over 5 years – now there’s a universal basic income we could all vote for.

Meanwhile the car has been fixed, a haircut is due, there are some lessons to be taught, and more books to be read – looking forward to reading Nate Chinen’s reports on 21st century jazz, and to being depressed/overwhelmed by Shoshana Zuboff on Surveillance Capitalism. Was life just so much easier in the 1970s/1980s? Discuss.


About to return

IMG_0966(Port Elizabeth last week – writing now in East London)

Four weeks away in SA, the internet has not been great, the landscapes are too big for me to enjoy, everyone warns me not to go out exploring on my own, so I have watched too much cricket in my various hotel rooms, and stagnated for a month.

I have read:

Kudos by Rachel Cusk – the third of a trilogy, I think I’ve read them all on planes, which is appropriate as they are often about travelling and anonymous places, hotels, conferences, meetings where she is meant to be interviewed but instead people just talk to her about themselves. I assume the narrator is the author herself, but that might nbe too much of an assumption. She is dispassionate and affectless, but I’m drawn in.

Milkman by Anna Burns – Northern Ireland in the 70s, immersive, detailed longwinded sentences, addictive voices (has to be read in an Irish accent in your head) – tragic at times, also very funny. Highly recommended, as they say.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee – picked it up in Port Elizabeth in a secondhand bookshop, seemed an essential book in trying to understand some aspects of this country – interesting that he himself has now emigrated and become Australian. I wondered as I read it, whether I was meant to sympathise with the narrator/protagonist, as I generally didn’t. Unflinching in looking at (a version of) the white South African experience, but I wondered what a black South African reader would make of it. And where I might find some corresponding black South African writers, to compare and contrast. No success there yet.

Flutter Echo by David Toop – a version of autobiography by a seriously interesting musician/writer/critic – fascinating to learn more about his background and his experiences and his life, always impressed with people who are able to take their art so seriously (with occasional self-deprecation), but also he writes so well, and with generally praiseworthy self-awareness. Similarly his previous book Into The Maelstrom was a great read about the history of British improvised music in the 60s/70s onwards – well worth looking at if you’re interested in that kind of thing!

I appreciate that his brand of music would probably not be everyone’s cup of tea, particularly at Wakefield Jazz on a Friday night – but I am very much looking forward to the autumn line-up, starting with Empirical on Friday 4th October. Wakefield Jazz now there’s a proper plug and an actual link.

I have enjoyed listening to Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving (2019) – and Keith Tippett – Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening (c1970), and the joyous new Pigfoot album Pigfoot Shuffle (on Bandcamp here) and am really looking forward to listening to the new Steve Lehman cd The People I Love when I’m back home in Wakefield this week. Mainly I’m looking forward to being at home.


Some books

fullsizeoutput_b0aSome relaxing reading, as I enter another intensive books phase. I thought reading about humans who want to be machines (and immortal), and humans who want to make machines more human, would prove sufficiently distracting for a long journey. It was. But it’s disturbing how much money is pumped into such research by the gullible/self-obsessed titans of silicon valley (Elon Musk, Peter Thiel of Paypal, Google above all). They much prefer that to solving real real world problems, or thinking about equality, or ecology. Blind technological faith.

And then I read the thoughts of various female music critics, about their relationship to male music that they really like, either espousing deeply misogynistic views, or created by unashamedly misogynistic men. Some of it was enlightening, some of it could have been deeper, sometimes I struggled to imagine how they could find any redeeming features to justify their continuing fandom. (ACDC? Guns and Roses? Eminem?…) And for the more recent music, I’m just too old and out-of-touch to have a proper context. I’d certainly defend Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate album though.

I’ve also watched two films, “Get Out” (very entertaining) and “Phantom Thread” (slow and possibly self-indulgent, but I love Daniel Day-Lewis). I started “Black Panther” but five minutes of Marvel-fantasy was enough.


Enforced leisure


Unfortunate injury, enforced leisure. I’ve read this book – everyone should. I’ve read David Hinchliffe’s book “They Walked On Water” about the 1968 rugby league cup final (Wakefield Trinity v Leeds) and his ongoing obsession. I’ve read an article in New Left Review about pre- and post-communist Roumania – fairly depressing, if enlightening. I’ve read an obituary of the great Cecil Taylor – I nearly shook his hand once in the old Jazz Cafe (Stoke Newington) c1988. And once I’m fit again, I resolve to spend a lot more time playing the piano and appreciating it.



We drove to Newcastle last Wednesday night through the snow. Occasionally we reached 40 miles per hour. Just once the snow blew so wildly and incessantly across the A1(M) that we had to stop blindly in the middle of the road, with the hazard lights on, hoping the lorries would continue to trundle past obliviously. My vital work in Newcastle went ahead, with only a couple of absentees. My pleasurable music-making in Chester-le-Street was abandoned due to the weather, leaving us with a couple of days trudging through the world heritage site of Durham, impressed by the cathedral and the narrow streets of timeless learning and the green-tinged celebratory students and the obligatory underdressed Saturday night cavorters. We also took in a student production of My Fair Lady (uncut), featuring a number of unwittingly hilarious thespians. Imagine my excitement to find, in the well-stocked bookshop, not only Will Self’s latest oeuvre finally in paperback, but also a collection by David Foster Wallace (“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”). I’ve just read a 30-page story called “The Depressed Person”, circular and hypersensitive, with footnotes, addictive and funny and depressing at the same time. All therapists should read it!

The thaw is underway in Wakefield. Driving back from Durham this morning felt like returning to the soft south, no proper snow, just grey and damp. A week of choir and jazz workshop and youth theatre and ballet piano and other vital tasks to look forward to. And listening to some new music. Recommendations:

(1) Steve Lehman Octet on Radio 3’s Jazz Now (via iplayer)

(2) We Here Now – Shabaka Hutchings’ compilation of current young London jazz.


poems 2 1 3 4 7

I found a book of poems by Australian poet Jordie Albiston called “Euclid’s Dog” – all based on various mathematical algorithms. These are mine, following the Lucas number sequence (2-1-3-4-7) – but much less haiku-like than hers. It helps to pass the time.

walking out – loudly – no

excuse really – please don’t mind me –

it’s just the jazz is so….so-so


doo bebop – doo – scooby

doo bebop – doo bebop a lula –

does my fockin’ ‘ead in bebop mate


I wonder – why – asunder

and awry – my powers plundered dry –

my temperaments my humours my absence gone


down under – untouched – resistant

impervious impermeable – up the gum tree –

with cross bare anchor hove axe ground


paint me – sweetheart – second

that emulsion – the surface is prepared –

some weatherdamaged man will know your innermost


not butter – margarine – can’t

believe it – noone thought it possible –

the old ennui the royal brie encore!