Friday, August 27, 2010

Wexford Sights (XVII)

It's fruit-pickin' time here in Chez Doubtful! There is a little-visited field near our house that is home to a dense tangle of briars on which hang the juiciest and most succulent blackberries, and this afternoon my wife and I filled several shopping bags with as many as we could carry (this barely made a dent on their abundance!). Tomorrow we make jam! We were not the only ones craving these tasty treats, though; hundreds of hungry insects were also there in force, making the most of Nature's plenitude. Above are a handful of pictures I took while there, including a strange funnel-like spiderweb in the gorse that I found fascinating.
Of course, in case this is all simply too rural and idyllic for some, here's something decidedly hip and funky from LA:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Put the Needle on the Record (VIII)

Graham Dalley at the Barn (Hollick & Taylor, 1966)
I would have bought this LP, no matter what its musical content, on the strength of the cover art alone. There’s something both hilarious and sinister about it, almost like an homage to the great Surrealist photo-montages, except that it decorates an LP whose music can only be described as the easiest of easy listening. Is Graham Dalley the head on the platter, as I am led to believe based on perusing the photos on the back, or the great bearded face behind? Why is the severed head so jolly, actually winking at us in spite of its dismembered state and the apple in its mouth? There’s something supremely decadent about it all. I mean, look at the raised eyebrows and sleazy grin of the great bearded face; there’s no way that a person wearing such an expression is up to anything wholesome or tasteful! Perhaps the metal tray is actually a large collar, and the rest of Mr Dalley is on the other side of it, which makes the bearded face’s expression all the more ambiguous. Why is the plattered head's ears stuffed with parsley? So many questions ... Is it making allusions to John the Baptist? Was Graham Dalley convinced that he was merely the herald of an even greater visionary, one whose music was so smooth and eventless that it would bring about world peace and happiness? Is the giant face in the background a rock-and-roll Herod? It's all more Dali than Dalley! (Thanks go to Claudia for that particular observation.)
“Hold on, hold on,” you may interject at this word-in-edgewise point, “Can you please cut the horse-crap for a sec and tell us who the hell Graham Dalley was?” Well, the short answer is that I don’t really know, as the internet, source of all entirely reliable and well-researched facts, is sadly bare of any in relation to Mr Dalley (it does mention singer Alan Hemus, one of the record's two vocalists, but as a comic book illustrator rather than a singer, so I doubt that it’s the same person, and the other vocalist on this recording, "dark-eyed songthrush ... of Old Hongkong [sic]" Renee Barce, has vanished from popular gaze.) Based on the evidence of this record, he was a jobbing bandleader who no doubt shunted his gear around the UK in the 1960s, playing bland, inoffensive versions of popular songs such as ‘Zambezi’, ‘The Folks on the Hill’ and ‘Sayonara’ in middle-of-the-road restaurants, of which The Barn in Birmingham was one (hence the bizarre LP cover; although I suspect that this record, which purports to be a live recording in the Barn, was made in a studio and the sound of happy, toe-tapping diners that bookend each song were edited to fool the gullible). Or, according to the liner notes: “It was a great night out. The food and the wine and the mood and the music; you’re going to store it all away in some sweet corner of life’s memories to hold against less magical moments when you want to recall the rosy glow of friendliness and warmth which is the essence of our fare. At any rate, that’s how we hope you feel.” Hmmm ... Here's the man himself in action:

So if an overwrought version of the Beatles' 'Yesterday' played in that style is your thang, then this album is for you. Good luck finding a copy, though; I got mine in the damp-smelling back room of a tumbledown antique shop for €1, and have no idea where one would find another.
What interests me about this music is that it gives an insight into what people were actually listening to in the 1960s. We tend to have this notion that everyone was grooving to the Beatles and the Stones and - well, whoever is included on The Best Sixties Album In The World Ever! style compilations - whereas in fact the majority of people were probably more comfortable with music like this rather than the caterwaulings of scruffy ruffians like Mick 'n' Keef or The Who ("Isn't that what those mod hooligans listen to before smashing up Brighton?" Their song 'My Generation' was probably aimed at the sort of people who listened to Graham Dalley and his peers). It is sometimes misleading to assume that whatever is popular in our era, especially based on what has lasted the test of time, gives an accurate idea of what was actually listened to in 1966 (or whenever), because society was much more constrictive and conservative than it is now. When you pull out the record sleeves on these LPs, you will often see adverts for other records, usually by people that nobody other than cultural historians will be able to identify. The Inimitable Ronnie Rolande! Mark Wynter! Max Jaffa! Los Zafarinos Ole! Ivy Pete and his Limbomaniacs! But I suppose the (not-terribly-original) point I'm trying to make is: how much of the music that's listened to today will be 2040's Mark Wynter and Graham Dalley? Assuming that there's still a habitable planet at that stage, of course ... And to finish, here's something about as far from Graham Dalley as is probably possible:

Monday, August 23, 2010

An Amusement (XXV)

The following is something I find quite bizarre: someone took the Beatles' song "I'm So Tired" (from The White Album) and not only played it backwards, but wrote out lyrics based on the reversed vocal sounds. It's a fine example of this. The chorus ('I'd give you everything I've got for a little piece of mind') has become 'and I'm no simpleton without my history with you'. I've included this for two reasons: firstly, because the song (when unreversed) contains one of my favourite couplets ('although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette/and curse Sir Walter Raleigh; he was such a stupid git!'), and secondly, because it's a rather apt title considering I visited my consultant today and he confirmed that it is more than likely I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a bit of a nuisance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Curiosity

While relaxing out on our back step and enjoying a ruddy goblet of plonk, my partner noticed this strange little structure on the leaf of our (now sadly deceased) fig tree. Can any of my more horticulturally minded readers shed some light on what it is? It's about 5 millimetres across, and is the only one on the leaves that we can find.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wexford Sights: Stained Glass (V)

The above images are of two windows in the very attractive late 19th century Catholic church in Oulart, a small village just off the R741 on the way to Wexford. Unusually, they are signed and dated; a small legend on the bottom of one (see the fifth picture) identifies them as being by Earley & Co, a Dublin company, and made in 1942. Again, they show the heavy influence of Harry Clarke, not surprisingly as Clarke's studio kept running for years after his death (until 1973) and would probably have been in competition with Earley & Co. My apologies about the slight blurriness in some of the images; my camera is having slight problems with focusing! I quite like these windows; the colours are very strong, and even imitation Clarke can be preferable to a lot of the blandly "modern" glass (or the Victorian hackwork) which one encounters so often in churches.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wexford Sights (XVI): The Saltee Islands (II)

More photos from the Saltees, except for the last image, which is of a seal which followed our boat into the harbour.

Wexford Sights (XVI): The Saltee Islands (I)

The above photographs were taken last Sunday on the Saltee Islands, just off the south coast of County Wexford. On a rock at the far end of the island is a huge gannet colony; the noise, smell, and sight of this is quite breathtaking. The photo of the cave is worth clicking on to enlarge, as in the thumbnail you may not see all the birds around the entrance...
Click on the link to see a map of the island.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Amusement (XXIV)

While in Arklow recently, I picked up a copy of Delmore Schwartz's Selected Poems: Summer Knowledge in a charity shop. This in itself was a surprise, as Schwartz would be very obscure by Irish standards and was quite out of place amidst the Roddy Doyles and Cecelia Aherns. But when I got it home I found in the back a postcard and a letter, written by different hands, which are both a fascinating glimpse into a life and a reminder of the little losses that occur to us as we shuffle along this mortal coil. I've changed the names and a few details to preserve the anonymity of the people in question.
First, the postcard. On the front is a picture of the Flatiron Building in New York, and a watermark on the back dates it to 1987. The text reads as follows:
[Written across the top:] This card is belated by about three months. Please excuse.
[Main text:] Hi Alan, How are things in Chicago? Sorry for not getting in touch sooner but we were very busy getting settled in initially so I'm really only starting to write to people now. Everything is going great here in NY - my social life is really just starting to take off right now, I was at a great party last Friday night with people who are working with me and got pee-eyed [sic] - twas a good laugh all the same. I have about three different jobs at the moment - two part-time and one full-time. I'll be in touch soon.
The message isn't signed, but the writer's name and address are written on the top of the card. Which is just as well, because stamped underneath the recipient's address is: Returned to Sender: Moved - Not Forwardable.
The letter is handwritten in pencil on a small sheet of cheap white paper which looks like it was pulled out of a notebook of some kind. It has no envelope, and is marked with small brown stains and smudges which resemble burn marks, as if it was held too close to a candle. Neither the recipient nor the writer are identified. The full text is as follows (I've stuck as closely as possible to the original style of writing):
Sitting down, Pink Floyd playing, looking through slides, sorting the damn things out, it brings it all back, boy did we have some good times, [illegible word], the buildings of Bogota, high ideals [?], the truck, Cartegena, Armero - I can hardly look at these - the Palacio, Gerardo, La Candelaria, the trips with Murphy & Co, Sonny, Frederico, I even came across [illegible word], La Universidad, [illegible word; possibly Bermuda]. Remember it all for five minutes, don't know if it will ever be the same again - we were a good pair. Go back now to high living, dollars and the unfulfilled American dream, enjoy it.
Nos Vamos Amigo [Written beneath and underlined]
Curiously, the book has the name of the postcard's recipient (who I've called Alan) written above the title page, which suggests that it belonged to him and was borrowed, or gifted, to the writer of the postcard (who I'll call Brendan). The letter is a mystery, as I don't know whether it was written to Alan or Brendan (or possibly was in the book already if Alan bought it second hand). The mention of Murphy & Co certainly suggests an Irish connection that would tie in with the writer of the postcard, but that's obviously pure speculation. What is clear is that she (my partner and I have little doubt that it was written by a woman) travelled to Colombia with the intended recipient of the letter and some others, and that he (?) has returned to the US. What is clear is that Brendan was in the US in the 1980s, and at some point returned to Ireland (but perhaps he didn't; perhaps the book returned with a visiting relative or friend). Perhaps he was on a student visa, or had emigrated. At this stage, it's 23 years since the postcard was sent, and more than likely the same length of time since the letter was written, so it's all well in the past now.
I had a moment's hesitation before writing this, as I wondered if I was violating the privacy of the people involved by publishing their correspondence. After some thought I decided that if you value your privacy, you shouldn't leave your correspondence in books that you bring to the charity shop. Before selling books, I always check them for old letters, photographs, and the like, for that very reason. Besides, I feel that I have changed the details enough (without changing the sense) to protect the identities of those mentioned. Anyway, here's an apt song: