Saturday, July 28, 2007

Prom 19: Strauss/Britten/Nielsen (RAH)

Richard Strauss' Macbeth is exactly the sort of piece that only gets performed in long concert seasons that feature a Shakespearean theme. There is no other reason to play, or listen to, this dreary tosh.

Next up we were supposed to hear a rare outing for Britten's Our Hunting Fathers, but unfortunately singer Lisa Milne fell ill and no-one else was available who knew the piece well enough to do it at short notice, so instead we hear another vocal work of Britten's, Les Illuminations. Joan Rodgers steps into the breach wonderfully (as apparently she did at Aldeburgh last year, when Milne cried off sick at the last minute from the very same work...), as do the Hallé, and Britten's settings of Rimbaud are wonderful, but it's a bit of a shame to sacrifice something I and probably many others in the ausience have never heard for a piece (albeit a great one) that's far more commonly heard; not to mention the nonsense it makes of the other Prom theme supposedly being represented, the centenary of the birth of Auden.

In the second half we hear the wonderful fourth symphony of Nielsen, a piece I have long loved, in which the Hallé under Mark Elder catch fire to produce possibly the single best performance I've heard so far at this year's Proms.What a shame the hall was half empty. I've never been able to fathom why Nielsen isn't massively popular, but on this showing he simply isn't a box office draw. Well, all those of us who were there experienced something quite magical, and all those of you who weren't missed out. I was transported into another world, and ( a sure sign of a fine performance) couldn't quite believe it was over so soon. One day, I hope, Nielsen will reach his rightful place at the forefront of the average concert-goer's consciousness.

They play an encore, something I'd not normally welcome after such a charged experience, but it's beautifully judged: a new orchestration by Colin Matthews of Debussy's last, long lost piano work, "Les soirs illuminée par l'ardeur du charbon", a delicate and refined couple of minutes that soothes our ears and readies us to return to the dark, wet night of London. We retire to a pub and revel in what we have heard.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The vinyl word

In between all this highfalutin Promming, I've been very much enjoying this series of articles in the Guardian by Joe Queenan looking at the origins of pop songs, full of the kind of inconsequential trivia that I find fascinating.

Prom 18: Delius/Tippett/Vaughan Williams (RAH)

Ah, Delius, the syphilitic old fascist. There are those who go into raptures about his music, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. " A Song of Summer" meandered along in a turn of the century, sub-Debussy sort of way, all very lush and ripe but lacking in much substance. A nagging thought kept knocking in my skull that I'd heard it somewhere before, which coalesced into a realisation that what it really reminded me of was "By the Sleepy Lagoon" without the tune. So, Delius: a poor man's Eric Coates.

I mentioned Tippett yesterday in comparison to Henze, and, serendipitously, here is his Triple Concerto. Tippett's an idiosyncratic composer, to put it mildly; depending on whether you're in the mood for him he can seem luxuriantly rhapsodic or rambling; there are many gestures that sound appealingly knotty when you're feeling sympathetic, and clumsy when you're not. And then he floors you with something of such breathtaking beauty that you have to forgive him. But in a time when so many composers are turning out expertly crafted, glowingly orchestrated and timidly empty scores, Tippett stands against the cult of fetishistic surface perfection and insists on music as a social force that can attempt to say something.

And so to Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony. It's such a shame that such transcendentally beautiful music as this gets dismissed as "cowpat music", and it makes me wonder what it is about the English that makes them unable to believe that one of their own might produce something worthy to stand alongside the greats, which this symphony undoubtedly does, in my view. It's elegant pastoral skin conceals an underlying muscular system that is as steely as the tumultuous fourth and sixth symphonies that stand either side of it. And in Andrew Davies you couldn't hope for a better guide through this music. In fact the experience reminds me just how good the BBC Symphony Orchestra were when he was their principal conductor, before he left and they fell into a dreadful slump (I recall a performance they gave a few years ago at the Proms under Jukka-Pekka Saraste of Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra that I still remember as the worst performance I have ever heard a professional orchestra give). They have turned the corner, and Jiri Belohlavek has certainly raised their game, but they still have more work to do to return to their former heights. They played wonderfully tonight, and they should always play this well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Henze

There are some things that just seem to pass you by, and Hans Werner Henze has been one of them. I've long been aware of his existence, of course, and his position as one of the few significant composers to emerge from Germany since the war, as well as one not afraid to confront his homeland's past, but somehow his actual music has failed sink into my consciousness. So coming across a score of his Seventh Symphony while engaged in cataloguing the oversized score shelves in the library where I work* seemed to be a sign that I should have a listen, and I now wish I'd paid attention earlier. It's something of a shock to come across something so recent (he wrote it in 1983-4) that engages so directly and seriously, and without any ironic distancing, with the European symphonic tradition that stems from Haydn and Beethoven. All the more remarkable coming from a German composer, who must I suppose feel the weight of such a history even more than most of the rest of us. It's an immediately engaging piece, that's nevertheless clearly a weighty, meaty beast. If you like the sort of eclectic, not-quite-tonal style of such composers as Tippett (whose politics also find an echo in Henze), this is well worth a listen, and I shall certainly be hunting down more of his music.

One thing though: the CD cover is a truly horrible design. I know the sort of person most likely to buy a Henze CD probably isn't going to be put off or attracted by the cover, but really, couldn't they have made the effort?

* A startling number of these scores seem to come from the same two or three publishers, and be composed by people born within a few years of each other. A monument to a certain era in 20th century music...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Prom 14: The Seasons (RAH)

Is there a better composer than Haydn?

I have long harboured the suspicion that most, if not all, of music, or indeed of anything is either underrated or overrated, almost nothing being rated generally at its exact worth. Haydn is clearly underrated, as sadly was attested by a half empty Royal Albert Hall for this performance of his oratorio The Seasons. This is a work that lies very much in the shadow of The Creation, not least because Haydn himself was less than happy with the circumstances of its genesis, complaining that the libretto was inadequate, and ultimately that the effort of writing it had worn him out (he composed little after its completion in 1802). I have to confess I know it hardly at all compared to its more famous companion, so Roger Norrington's appearance at the Proms seemed a good opportunity to redress the balance.

Now, it's true to say that it's not as great as The Creation, but then again, to paraphrase Joseph Heller, what is? In fact I wonder if, in a way, it counts as a more remarkable achievement and testament to Haydn's genius that he produced something so good from such unpromising materials. If it's true that he resorts to word-painting more here than before, the fact is that what he paints is far more interesting than the words that he illustrates. The raucous natural horns and growling trombones of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston's period band depicting the hunt in "Autumn" were only one highlight among many in this performance that reminded one that for all the cosy image of "Papa Haydn", he was much closer to his sometime pupil Beethoven than is often acknowledged. And Haydn has a natural humane warmth that the younger composer often struggled to produce. The triteness of the words becomes irrelevant when you're faced with such spirituality, such craft, such inventiveness as the 70-year-old composer shows here. Genius is a word that gets (mis)used so often nowadays that it hardly means anything anymore; but Haydn is one of a very small number of artists who genuinely deserves the description. It pains me deeply that he's thought of as staid, or boring, or shallow, because he's none of these things, as a careful listen to almost anything he wrote will reveal. He may not have the glamour of dying young and having a play written implying he was murdered by another composer, but I can't think of anyone else who sustained such a level of originality, inventiveness and sheer quality over such a long and prolific career. And yes, dammit, profundity too.If you can't hear the deep, heartfelt emotion and spirituality in his music, then you're simply not listening.

Is there a better composer than Haydn? Well, no.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Damo Suzuki/ Vialka

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How do I describe Vialka? If I tell you they're a duo, he on guitar, she on drums, both on vocals, you'll probably think "ah, White Stripes", but they're nothing like that, although they share a certain aesthetic that might be described as primitivist (although not primitive). Maybe if Jack and Meg had grown up listening to Magma instead of Led Zeppelin they might have turned out something like this, although it's impossible to imagine Vialka ever writing a song for a Coke ad. If I tell you their music spans genres from Eastern European folk through punk, jazz and Beefheartesque avant-blues, with the odd bit of reggae thrown in, you might imagine some sort of polystylist sound; but they never really sound like anything other than themselves. If I tell you that Marylise Frecheville wears a fantastically unconvincing blond wig and occasionally jumps out from behind her drum kit to dance in the audience while Eric Boros remains in half-shadow on the stage, encouraging us all to clap, you might have the idea that they're a "wacky" band; but there's a forceful sense of purpose behind what they do that is utterly compelling and has no trace of novelty (which doesn't preclude a wry humour coming through). The only category I feel the need to put them in (although they describe themselves as "nomadic turbo-folk") is "good music". They're one of the most distinctive and engrossing acts I've seen recently, and I commend them to you.

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Having left the stage at the Spitz, Vialka come back, as this evening they, augmented by a flautist, are acting as Damo Suzuki's band for his latest appearance in London. It's a different atmosphere tonight to the last time I saw him; It's Sunday night, the audience is a sitting one rather than a dancing one, and there's the small matter of the curfew. So tonight's show is perhaps a more cerebral affair than that November night, which pushes towards a more reflective mood. What's remarkable about Damo's performances is the way that the musicians he plays with seem to absorb entirely into his vision, without ever losing their own voices, so that here we hear the sound of Vialka subtly altered to become something that is clearly of a piece with his previous performances, yet also unique. And next time, it'll be different again, an unpredictable, unrepeatable event with Damo at its centre, acting as the focus that draws it all together. What you can't fail to take away from any of his performances is a sense of the sheer generosity of his spirit.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Deller Quartet and friends

Schubert's Octet was written for a clarinetist to play with friends, like much of Schubert's music - if he'd lived to anything like a reasonable age he'd doubtless have left behind more big, "public" works, but as it is most of his music is like this - small scale (in forces if not in length), intimate, informal. It initially seems an unlikely situation, to be sat in a chapel drinking while listening to a concert, but it's a nice change of pace. There's a rarity in the Five Pieces for string quartet by Schulhoff ( a composer who should be better known) and Webern's early "Langsamer Satz", luxuriant and lush, if lacking in the emotional depth of his mature work. The Deller Quartet (all members of KSO) perform both with aplomb, before being joined by some of the KSO wind section for the Schubert. This is surely how he meant this music to be heard - friends playing together for friends; listening, drinking, enjoying. Afterwards we all decamp to the pub up the road. It's not the best pub in the world, but it doesn't matter - it's good company that makes an evening enjoyable.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Proms 6&7 (Radio 3)

I dashed home after Ives and caught the first Late-Night Prom on Radio 3 (I might have stayed, but I'd never have got home). This was notable as it had made the news bulletins the previous day, featuring as it did the first modern performance of a Mass by Alessandro Striggio, a composer at the court of the Medicis, in which the choir divides into 40, and later 60, parts. If you know your early music this will sound familiar, as it was this mass, as well as a motet in 40 parts by Striggo, that inspired the Duke of Norfolk to ask aloud if there was an English composer who could match this feat, to which the answer was yes - Thomas Tallis stepped up to the challenge and composed his own 40-part motet, Spem in alium. All three of these works were performed here, and there's no denying that the sheer gloss of sound in so many independent voices sounding together is overwhelming. It should also be noted that Tallis comes out on top as the better composer (to these ears, at least), but the Striggio works were very much worth hearing, and the final Agnus Dei of the mass, where the choir divides into 60, was an extraordinary and special moment, a shimmering, gossamer texture that wafted the scent of the divine even into this embittered atheist's soul.

Last night's concert was equally special, the combined forces of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre national de France coming together under the baton of Kurt Masur (celebrating his 80th birthday) to perform Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings and Bruckner's Symphony No.7. Tchaikovsky has such a reputation as a Russian misreablist that it's refreshing to hear a piece like this, all light and joy. At the risk of sounding like a Classic FM DJ, this really is music to soothe the soul. Bruckner is a composer I've taken a long time to appreciate - as a shallow youth I dismissed him as long-winded and dull, but I've come to realise how wrong I was, and that he's a unique composer of almost transcendental qualities, whose occupation of space-time chimes strongly with Tallis and Striggio's clouds of sound.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Prom 5: Hayden/Bernstein/Ives (Royal Albert Hall)

Is there a longer stretch of urban road in the world without a bin than Kensington Gore? that's how it feels, anyway. Eventually I find one skulking by the Royal College of Art like a Dalek left behind after the invasion was aborted. Such things that a new Proms season brings to mind.

They like to make a big deal of the fact that you can get into the proms for a fiver, but that's somewhat negated by the extortionate bar prices - £3.90 for a 335ml bottle of beer! Arrive early and go to the pub, is my advice.

The old routine comes back quickly once I'm in the hall, many of those strange faces that have become familiar over the years are present - that ageing hippy who sadly seems no longer to have his "Proms 78" t-shirt, that man who looks, frankly, like a paedophile... The announcement telling us to turn off our phones. I am so paranoid about this that I check my phone, despite knowing full well that its battery is flat and it's currently dead as a doornail.

it's not particularly full tonight, but it's not an unrespectable crowd - pretty good for a concert with no conventional warhorse, I guess.

First up is tonight's premiere - Substratum by Sam Hayden (who, I discovered at the weekend, is a relation by marriage. Small world). I seem to recall that a few years ago Sam talked a lot about politics and the composer's role in society. Tonight's programme note talks about "exploring the fundamental and essential characteristics of its material through highly formalist means". One should never put too much store by programme notes - I remain convinced that Stockhausen wouldn't have half such a fearsome reputation if it weren't for the well-meaning but obfuscating waffle that's been written about him - but one does wonder if there's a danger of him being dragged down into the mire of the establishment. The piece itself is OK (it's refreshing to hear a new piece these days that's so apologetically "modern"), but lacks a certain spark for me. Maybe it needs to be listened to a few times, something that if you're played on Radio 3 you have the advantage over most new works in that this is quite easily done.

Anyhow, whatever my reservations, it's certainly a better experience than hearting the next piece in the programme, Bernstein's Second Symphony, the Age of Anxiety. This uneasy blend of pastiches of Rachmaninov, Copland, Shostakovich and Bartok, to name a few, is a seemingly endless parade of cliches, drenched in pretentious portentousness. I wanted to wish it well, really I did, but it was tedious almost beyond endurance, and it was a wonder that I made it to the end. Who'd have though that the flamboyant, extravagant, voraciously bisexual raving egotist Bernstein could come up with something so dull? I suppose this is what happens when you chase respectability. Sam Hayden take note.

Thank god, then, for Charles Ives, who was certainly never troubled by notions of respectability. I last heard his Fourth Symphony a few years ago at the Proms, performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. This performance didn't quite scale the heights of that one - in particular it lacked the clarity that the CBSO brought to the riotous second movement - but this is a piece that sweeps all before it. It is an assertive, unapologetic and thoroughly necessary work that exists on a higher plane than what went before it, and in its closing bars you hear a glimpse of infinity. There are many works that it is interesting to hear, and a few that are a pleasure, but to hear this symphony is a privilege.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Prom 4: Berio/Rossini (Radio3)

Now that the new taste fascists have taken Modernism as their whipping boy, I worry that there will be a comprehensive purge of large swathes of musical history between roughly 1910 and 1980. Now of course there's an awful lot of modernist rubbish that deserves to be forgotten, but there's a lot of rubbish in any era that deserves to be forgotten, and it would be a terrible shame if some very fine composers were to be buried purely due to their use of a style that is now outdated. Berio is one such composer, and his Sinfonia, which forms the first half of tonight's prom, is a case in point, a highpoint of Modernist music (and indeed Post-Modernist) whose glowing textures and warm wit speak of a humanity that current received wisdom would deny could be present in this sort of music, as well as a determination to say something that is certainly becoming rarer. I wonder how much one could get out of it if one did not get the various references and quotations that it contains (in particular the extensive "commentary" on the scherzo of Mahler's Second Symphony), whether it's enough to hear the surreal clash of the tonal and non-tonal. But this isn't something I can answer, although it seems Berio takes for granted in this a certain level of musical knowledge that you simply couldn't assume these days if you were aiming at anything beyond a vanishingly small group of people. Will this, rather than any stylistic fashion, be the death of this piece? I can only hope not, because it's a wonderful experience, and it's ably performed here by the Swingle Singers and the Chorus and Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome under conductor Antonio Pappano.

The second half was an Italian classic from an earlier age, Rossini's Stabat Mater. This is one of those pieces I never enjoy as much as I think I'm going to, and so proved the case here, although the players did a very fine job and there were many lovely things on the way.

Friday, July 13, 2007

First Night of the Proms (BBC2)

I don't mind Charles Hazlewood, I've met him and he's a nice bloke. So I can put down his slightly patronising irritatingness on telly events such as this to the autocue and the patronising, irritating script it's delivering him. His guests in the box are Gillian Moore, late of the London Sinfonietta and now of the South bank, and Philip Sheppard, cellist and composer. Both are intelligent, knowledgeable people, and yet in the context of a television event neither has anything interesting to say. I put this down to the inherently asinine nature of television.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra despatches Walton's "Portsmouth point" with efficiency. It's good to hear them on much better form than a couple of years ago, when their performance under Jukka-Pekka Saraste of Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra was possibly the worst performance I have ever heard a professional orchestra give.

Elgar's Cello Concerto is a tricky beast. It's skewed by the influence of Jacqueline du Pre, who created the self-indulgent template that most cellists have copied since for their interpretation. Elgar is all about passionate emotion held in check, and Paul Watkins doesn't quite manage to escape the gushing influence of du Pre, although he gives a pretty fine account. I'm more disturbed by the appalling mix in the TV sound, which pushes the soloist to the top in a ludicrous and utterly unrealistic (and unmusical) manner. Halfway through I switch to Radio 3 to compare. but of course telly is showing with a delay of half an hour and Radio is already onto the interval talk. This misbalancing has the effect of robbing the final moments of all the subtlety and poignancy they should have, that I'm sure Mr Watkins gave them if you were in the hall. The audience clap wildly. Charles Hazlewood gushes. But that's what he's paid to do, of course.

Here's Nicholas Kenyon to gush a bit more. Nicholas Kenyon has run the Proms for the past decade, and has taken it from John Drummond's daring to a cosy safeness that has gone from feeling like a reconciliation to an unimaginative bland consensus.

Charlie wants to know what Nick's favourite moment is in the time he's been running it. Nick waffles on in a generalising way that says nothing. Well, no-one's ever going to say anything thoughtful or intelligent on telly, are they? Only self-congratulatory mush. Blah blah themes and anniversaries [the laziest programming devices]. Blah blah international visitors. Youth Orchestras. Christ, this is turning into something like a speech at a political party conference. Being a bit of a nerd, I can't quite get over the fact that Nick looks quite a lot like the Doctor out of Star Trek: Voyager.

Charles now talks to Paul Watkins, and an intelligent discussion threatens to break out. Here we have two intelligent musicians discussing an important piece, and it's wonderful. it's over too soon, of course, but then we have a nice little film profiling Jiri Belohlavek, who isn't given enough screen time, as he clearly has lots of interesting things to say. But overall I must give thumbs up to BBC 2 for this bit of the interval.

Now the talking heads return, and it's back to bland nonsense. Oh well. That's TV for you.

Actually, I'm being unfair. They're saying some interesting stuff about Beethoven here. But they're talking against the clock, and a conversation that should last hours is over in minutes.

Personally, I've always thought that Beethoven's 9th Symphony's opening 30 seconds are brilliant, and then it's all downhill from there. Belohlavek takes a very steady speed in the first movement, putting himself closer to Klemperer than Norrington in the speed stakes. But in sacrificing the urgency of the faster speed, he doesn't quite achieve the gravity necessary to make the slower speed work.

The second movement's more successful, with an understated quality that brings out the dance element of the music.

I was worried that the solo singers not coming on stage until this point would distract, but fortunately this proves not to be the case, and after a brief respite the orchestra moves into the slow movement, a difficult one to bring off. There's a balance between repose and movement to be struck, and thy don't quite bring that off, although there are many moments to savour.

the finale bursts in-ish. It seems curiously lacking in electricity, and the cello/bass recitatives are rather lumpen and slow for my tastes. And when the "Ode to Joy" theme emerges, it sounds curiously sleepy, which I suppose is a valid interpretation, but it seems to lack the innocence that I want to hear at that point. Maybe that's something impossible to achieve after all these years.

Once the singers come in, of course, it's all about joy and humanity coming together, and critical comment is redundant, because how can you not respond to such a sentiment? It is music that stands beyond any reasonable comment.

Church of Trane


Good article in the Grauniad today marking the 40th anniversary of the death of the great John Coltrane. Coltrane's music has an obsessive edge to it, as I suppose all great art does to some extent - he frequently played "My Favourite things" from the Sound of Music, and would happily improvise on the tune for half an hour or more. I remember a story I was told of an occasion when he was playing with Miles Davis, and when his turn came, let rip with a blistering and very long solo. Davis sidled up to him after he finally finished and asked why he'd gone on so long. "I couldn't think of a way to finish", replied Trane. Miles responded, "Try taking the motherfucking horn out of your mouth."



if you haven't listened to Coltrane, it's time to put that right. this is music of such intensity that some people set up a church in his name.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A heart for any fate



Freedom is on two wheels. As the days pass distances seem less, unconquerable Everests become gentle inclines. Irritants remain, of course, but suddenly seem to matter less, because within a few hours you'll be free again, playing chess with the traffic, and then gliding past water, wind in your hair, glad to be able to forego the rat's underground existence and instead enjoy the thrill of movement, the life of it.

Remember those online petitions the government was making such a fuss of encouraging recently? Did you feel cynical, like me, dismiss thm as a cheap publicity stunt that would be filed away and forgotten? Well, sometimes they work!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Mules



Ed Seed is really too skinny to be anything other than in a band. He drums and sings, a combination with a noble lineage (we'll forget about Phil Collins). The Mules also consists of guitar, bass, violin and squelchy moog-type keyboards. If Madness had come from the Weimar Republic they might have sounded like this. They're sharp, but also agreeably slapdash, skittering around Ed's tight drumming. They're rather wonderful, and so is their album. You could buy it online, but it would be better if you went to a gig and bought it off them there. They're playing every Monday at the Big Chill House until the end of August. Entry is free. Go and hear them.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rasputina: Oh Perilous World

Having pre-ordered this album from the states some time ago I was very excited to find it on my doormat this weekend. And even more pleased that it lives up to all expectations.

Chances are, if you're in the U.K. you won't have heard Rasputina, although you may have heard a track of theirs that appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I try to describe them to anyone, I struggle beyond "goth-pop cello band", which does them a great disservice, suggesting both a limited genre palette and a novelty element, neither of which is remotely true. Rather I should say that Rasputina mainstay Melora Creager has an idiosyncratic and singular vision, which she has pursued and refined through the course of five albums (plus an excellent solo mini-album last year).
Their last album, 2004's Frustration Plantation marked a breakthrough for these ears, with an expanded palette and refined songwriting producing Rasputina's most rounded work to date. Oh Perilous World builds on that fine album's sound world, as well as Melora's solo outing Perplexions last year. Many of the lyrics this time have been constructed using "found" sources, but the result seems to be pretty much the same as ever, namely oblique, mordant and witty. Rasputina offer a skewed, abstract take on the world around us that seems simultaneously to be entirely of its time and yet independent of any discernible trend. And in these days of identikit indie posers, that's something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I am famous!


I may be overestimating what constitutes fame. Nevertheless, I feel very chuffed to see a photo of mine appear in top capital blog The Londonist!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Thanks for the ether

So, that is that. You can no longer light up in public without the full force of the law coming down on you like Two Ton Tony Tubbs and banging you up and throwing away the key. Or something.

I feel very uncomfortable about this. Let me lay my stall out: I smoked for many years until I gave up for the last time about 2 years ago. The last place I am likely to tempted to indulge was the pub. This means I will, as certainly as I can say, never smoke again. I will return from the pub not smelling of stale smoke. In terms of my own personal well-being, this ban is all to my benefit.

And yet... on Saturday I stood on platform 1 of London Bridge Station, looking at a large sign that informed me that as of July 1, smoking on this platform, or anywhere in this station (and all stations) would be AGAINST THE LAW.

Smoking is a vile habit, and if you smoke you ought to stop, really you should. But it's your choice to. Who benefits from this draconian law? Who is harmed if someone smokes on a platform, in the open air, other than the smoker?

I will doubtless find a smoke free pub a more comfortable place to sit. But I can't applaud a piece of legislation on the grounds that it suits me personally. That seems an attitude brimming with sanctimonious selfishness.

Most people I know don't smoke these days. But there are still some. Am I to cast them from my presence until they forego the perilous weed?

What happened to tolerance? What happened to taking responsibility for oneself? This law is attacking both these things. This comes from the same mindset that is slowly chipping away at our civil liberties, turning us into a nation of suspects.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What is this toss?

The literal answer is that this toss is the pilot for a resurrection of ancient telly music quiz Face The Music on BBC4, but the literal answer doesn't really answer the question, what is this toss?

You might be able to find it on the BBC's spanking new i-player, but I really wouldn't recommend it, as it really is shockingly poor and shows just how little anyone in television understands music. John Sergeant, who used to be so authoritative as a political corespondent, has a ponderous, pedantic delivery, his guests all look thoroughly uncomfortable, and the whole thing has an insipid, simpering air that I find utterly repellent. It makes Classic FM look like Hans Keller. Who commissioned this rubbish? If I knew nothing of classical music, I'd think, what a bunch of smarmy tossers. Knowing about it, I find it patronising, unintelligent and embarrassing. Oh, and I still think, what a bunch of smarmy tossers. It sets the cause of classical music back about 50 years.