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!


Council Watch!

I spent an interesting couple of hours this afternoon in the public gallery at County Hall in Wakefield, watching the monthly (ish) full meeting of the Wakefield Council (MDC) – democracy in action, as they say. Composition – 53 Labour, 7 Conservative, 2 Ukip, 1 Independent – so not much doubt on the outcome of any votes, regardless of the quality of debate. An impressive room, late-Victorian municipal grandeur, semi-circle of seats but not much consensus. Some very traditional procedural formalities (prayers, the ceremonial mace, a minute’s silence), and a clear sense of deference to “The Leader” (Peter Box, since 1998), who spoke always with authority and some dry humour. Rugby League (Featherstone, Trinity and Castleford) was mentioned with pride. Food banks, homelessness, and suicide (one in 8 of all deaths – 83% male) were spoken of with less pride, and eventually some passion appeared from Councillors Tully and Rowley, in response to the combative (if repetitive) Conservative leader Nadeem Ahmed (the only non-white councillor, out of 63). Mr Ahmed is up for re-election in May 2018 in the Wakefield South ward.

Once various reports had been nodded through (including a 175-page City Centre Urban Design Framework Planning Document – nothing to discuss there), there was a debate on a motion about Homelessness, which filled half an hour, but offered nothing but anodyne good intentions.

So, what was that all about? Is that all there is? This monthly meeting may be just an opportunity for rubber-stamping and inconsequential political point-scoring, but what does it say about local democracy? I assume the real work of the Council and the Councillors goes on elsewhere, in other even less glamorous meeting rooms, and in “The Cabinet”. But what does a Metropolitan District Council like Wakefield actually control these days? In the old days, the local council was responsible for housing and education and transport and youth work, as well as the environment and social work – so many of these activities have been privatised and de-regulated and outsourced, and the Council’s funds have been remorselessly cut. I wonder what the 63 councillors feel they can achieve, what the limitations are that they operate under, and how prepared they are to acknowledge those limits.

I’ve just started reading a book – “Who Stole The Town Hall? (The end of local government as we know it)” by Peter Latham – perhaps then I shall have more context. In the meantime, as the government inevitably crumbles and collapses, we can hope for a Corbynite Labour future, and mobilising the energies and potentials of the many, and not just the few! (That’s a peroration, I think – this week’s new word.)


Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma


All now turn outwards, night is omnivorous.
Great revolutions are menacing. See children inspired.

Antiquity nearby threatens ominous noodling. I obey,
Going round a man so casually insistent.

Any new thing often negates its opposite.
Grating retro amusements mask such coruscating insight.





Last week I spent a week working in an expensive private school in Wimbledon. This week I’m doing the same work, but in a church hall in Stockton-on-Tees. Geographically 280 miles apart. I’m staying in the Gresham area of Middlebrough, rows of terraced houses, some boarded up, some clearly empty, some half-demolished and left to rot, and some hosting Middlesbrough’s asylum seekers and other incomers. There are very few cars parked on the streets at night. The centres of both Middlesbrough and Stockton have some fine contemporary paving and mosaics, fountains, and poetry on sculpural features – evidence of money spent on “regeneration” – but are distinguished mostly by empty shops, boarded-up frontages, people left behind. Then tonight I went in search of Pizza Express, and found it, at a massive shopping centre, car parks, shops, cinema, more car parks. I feel like the town centre should be the heart of activity, public space, where people work and live and play, but I realise perhaps I’ve been left behind. These malls are where you find the populations now avoiding the town centres – the shops and restaurants and car parks are full, daytime and evening, and the air of misery and cliched northern deprivation is dispersed. So the question is, is my desire for a vibrant town centre now simply a sad nostalgic hangover, a sign of my age, or a sign of my youth in the 1970s? Shopping malls are not public spaces, they are private estates devoted to consumerism and capitalism, but if they are the future, how do we find the seeds of community and resistance there?

I went to a poetry event at Teesside University on Monday night, poems constructed from verbatim quotes from Durham coal miners over the past 200 years, shedding light on their lives and work and communities, now vanished along with the mines. If you were to interview the workers of the shopping malls, describing their lives and routines and experiences, what poetry might ensue? And what community?