Machineries of Joy

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I’ve written many times about British Sea Power on this blog and I make no apologies about how much I love their music.

April 2013 saw the release of their 6th studio album Machineries of Joy (if you count the controversial soundtrack-only Man of Aran, which I do) and after a two-year hiatus where the band has concentrated on trialling new material and hosting the eccentric Krankenhaus club nights in Brighton, the band are back on the road touring a new album.

The album has been lauded by the critics perhaps slightly more than usual with phrases like ‘coming of age’ and ‘good to have them back’ and whilst this is always a good sign, the audience will be the judge of that. It;’s fair to say that BSP plough their own persistent furrow, doggedly avoiding anything that can be vaguely described as commercial.

Although their anti-cash-making instincts may have eluded them with Machineries of Joy.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Thriller. It’s not an album that they can retire to the South of France on, in fact I doubt if they will be able to retire to South London on it. But there is a more grown up acceptance of who they are and a lush production job makes up for their earlier sparsely produced affairs. There’s a great mix of stomping rockers and melodious, large format tunes that deliver the most satisfying album since Do You Like Rock Music? Time will tell if this album can deliver above that (and I think it can) but what I do know if the new songs are a revelation live and this is usually where BSP and their audience get to know the new album.

Last week was the Leeds Met UNi gig and this is a thrillingly small venue with enough space to get a decent audience in and I’ve seen a good few BSP gigs there. This time seemed different somehow – yes they delivered familiar crowd pleasers Remember Me, Carrion et al – but only after we’d been hypnotised for an hour with mesmerizing, melodic tunes. Usually I’d be getting agitated that everything wasn’t kicking off, but not this time.

It almost seemed like they’d slipped into another gear: happy to be delivering raucous rock anthems to the faithful but alongside these they seemed to have more faith in their ability to inhabit the expansive spaces of Machineries of Joy. BSP has always about the contradiction of orchestral and full tilt guitar but these have often been at odds with each other, requiring different sets or in some cases evenings. But something has changed somehow, a small but discernible shift in the band that could open doors for them.

I’m looking forward to seeing what might happen at this next stage…

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Many thanks to Carl Milner for the superb selection of images – more here

Ansel Adams

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If you love photography in any way then you will know all about Ansel Adams. His strikingly beautiful black and white photography of the American wilderness is timeless and majestic.

All students of photography will know his work inside out and those of us who haven’t looked too closely will surely recognise his iconic work from many an office calendar or coffee table book. His most famous images were amazingly shot in the 1920s and 30s and their freshness to this day is testament to the visionary talent of the photographer.

Adams was one of the first photographers to embrace Β ‘photographic realism’ – photographs that showed everything pin sharp, as the eye sees it. Up until then, photography was very much an extension of romantic art with blurred, artistic edges and soft focus techniques. Adams was also a founding member of the F64 club – an elite bunch of photographers committed to the realistic depiction of their subject matter using the smallest aperture on the camera lens which delivered the deepest depth of field.

I was also intrigued by Adams’ criticism by fellow documentary photographers who felt that he and his fellow F64ers should be photographing the grim reality of dustbowl recession in America. Adams remained committed to his work and stuck resolutely to nature photography, claiming not unreasonably that his work was art someone had to continue with it amidst the gloom of the period. Some of the most iconic photography comes from this period with Dorothea Lange leading the field with unflinching investigative journalism Β and Ansel Adams creating timeless, nourishing images.

A large body of Adams work is currently being shown at The National Maritime museum in Greenwich, with prints that don’t travel cross the Atlantic that often. I made the trip across London not really knowing what to expect as photography exhibitions can leave me a little ambivalent.

The show was beautifully staged and full of drama. Well designed with lots of moments throughout, the exhibition contained a wide selection of water related imagery – which is much of his work to be honest – showcasing the handsome imagery to full effect.

Adams huge body of work must take some interpreting. He was a hugely prolific image maker (not taker, please note) and finding a meaningful narrative in his work must take some doing as many of his images are riffs on texture, time, repetition, movement, reflection and stillness. In some ways his work is documentary in style and to that end, can lack depth in the beauty presented.

But it is the large format prints that take the breath away and this is where he excels. Where the vignettes titillate, the vistas take the viewer by surprise, delivering life-size monochromatic Californian scenery. My personal favourite s winter storm clearing the half dome in Yosemite, an image alive with the unpredictability of a winter storm in the High Sierra.

The show is well worth catching but you’d need to look sharp: it finishes at the end of April, but it is well worth the effort and the rather excellent National Maritime Museum adds to the value of the excursion.

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A new regime

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When the kids were younger we would go to the gym regularly on a weekend – they would go in kids club and we would go have a good workout. I seemed to have enough time back then to fit in at least another 3 or 4 workouts a week around that. You kind of get into a rhythm on it.

But as the kids grew and circumstances gradually changed it for some reason became quite hard to fit the gym into our lives. I still played tennis though but over time as new jobs happened, this too dissipated.

Although I still kept quite active with long walks and the occasional sporadic burst of activity, keeping fit slipped down my personal agenda and if you’ve read my posts over on Globetroffers, you wouldn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce I might put on a bit of timber as we say in the North.

And then earlier this year, Mrs D got her determined head on and decided enough was enough – she was going to do something about her fitness. This was definitely borne out of the annual slobbing around at Christmas and turning over a new leaf in January routine, but this time it felt different. So we went back to our old gym where we were founding members back in 1997, Virgin Active. It’s still a vibrant, busy place and was as good a place as any to start the journey back to some kind of fitness for us both.

Julie joined first and I soon after, getting the taste for it. It’s interesting how a different mindset kicks in: a determination to do something about it. For me it was principally about losing the rather manly belly I’d developed and getting some fitness back, feeling better and having more energy. Work in recent times has been brutal with lots of travelling, stress and eating the wrong kind of stuff (although my diet isn’t so bad, I do have dirtbag food tendencies) and I had to do something to mitigate this.

So the obligatory induction session with a young fitness coach called Philip got me hooked in again – evidently it was all change in gym-land with the high-tech machines shunned for old school freeform exercise using what are essentially medieval torture instruments to beat your muscles into submission. Kettle bells, climbing frames and huge rubber tubes called Viprs all formed the new workout regime.

My inbuilt geek alarm sounded at 115 decibels and of course, I had to get some new gym kit. The old stuff was simply not up to scratch being a few years old and following in the tracks of other middle-aged men in other sports, notably cyclists, I had to get my hands on the latest gear. Nike is my brand of choice and after identifying the latest shoes – flyknit neon yellow trainers, see header pic – I hunted out some rather slimming Dri Fit black kit and we were away.

Now I don’t know about you, but at my age – 49 – I need additional ‘encouragement’ to get this fitness party started. So I signed up for a personal trainer, the same young chap who showed me the ropes (as it were) when I started, Philip. I have an hour a week with him and he essentially puts me through physical hell, thinly disguised as a lifestyle choice.

As it happens, Philip is excellent and by the looks of it, the pick of the trainers at the gym. Every week we do something different – we never do the same things twice and it’s never dull.

It’s torture, but not dull torture.

I couldn’t walk for three days after the first session, the second session resulted in me not being able to lift a fork to my mouth to eat and the third session made it impossible for me to get off the sofa. This sounds horrendous I fully realise but the sessions themselves are hugely enjoyable and I look forward to the day when I am a) able to complete the tasks competently and b) not feel it until Wednesday.

I’ve had a rugby inspired session that I loved because it’s a game I love and played back in the day, a tennis focused session as I’m keen to pick up my racquet again this summer and the latest, a round of pugilistic boxing training. All hugely knackering but highly enjoyable. Philip keeps time and pushes gently, assessing what my limits are and by and large, ignoring these and pushing me on further.

In my 50th year, I figure now is a good time to reclaim my body from the slow and inevitable decline that is around the corner. I’m starting to feel fitter and although the aches and pains are still lasting a little longer than I would like, by the summer we should see some progress. I also have my eye on a couple of jackets I want to start wearing again!