Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings

May 30, 2010

Bury Met, 20/4/10

Half way through this concert, Jon Boden described his recent album, “Songs from the Floodplain”, as being set in world where the oil and other things had run out.  There was no electricity, and so people had to make their own entertainment.  Entertainment such as Folk Music.  This got a laugh and round of applause from the audience, which was rather ironic given that out of the couple of hundred people present, only five of us were making our own entertainment that evening.

It seems a shame to begin a review of such an excellent gig on what might seem to be a negative point, but, despite claims to the contrary, this was not Folk Music.  Yes, there were folk tunes included, yes the concert began with music played on wax cylinder phonographs,and yes, the songs had a folky feel, but taken as a whole, this was a very modern event.  The way the songs segued into each other; the way the group would set a cylinder playing on the phonograph and then join in; the attention to detail in the arrangements; all this showed a sit list as preprogrammed and rehearsed as something that Lady Gaga might perform.

Not that this is a problem.  Far from it: I don’t subscribe to the view that rehearsal is bad, and I deplore the way that amateurism is frequently passed off as self-expression.  This was a group of people who clearly had a vision about what they wanted to perform, and they delivered it.  (Incidentally, why is it, recently, that Sam Sweeney keeps turning up on stage when I go to a concert? He was playing the drums this time, occasionally with his fiddle bow.)

Anyway, I’m increasingly of the opinion that Jon Boden is not just a great arranger, but he’s shaping up to be one of our best song writers.  I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops.

I meant to write this entry earlier as the tour ends in Cambridge tonight, so it’s unlikely that anyone persuaded by this will have the opportunity to go and see the group.  Still, it allows me to describe how the show closes without spoiling it for anyone…

First, Jon Boden asks the sound techs to turn off the PA, then he launches into Stardust.  (It’s funny how this song is relatively unknown nowadays, given it was the most covered song ever until Yesterday.)  When he finishes, someone steps forward to play an old recording of the song on the phonograph, and the band accompany the song to close and fade.  Lovely, and strangely poignant.

I think I will end this entry in the same vein…

Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain


Eastern European Folk Tunes by Merima Kljuco

May 14, 2010

This blog gets more hits from people searching for accordion news than you might think, thus confirming that the worlds of SF and accordions are closer than you might think.  When oh when will the other SF writers wake up and realise this?

Anyway, here’s something about accordion music.

I bought the above book in Chappells from a gentleman who couldn’t quite keep the scorn from his voice as he announced to the store in general “Oh, one of those books with a CD in them.”

What is it about people who work in music shops that makes them so patronising?  Why did he feel it necessary to imply it was cheating to hear the music before I tried to read it? Did he think that was going to make me want to return to his shop?

Actually, I’m glad the CD was included as Merima Kljuco plays more than is written, and you get a feel for a very different style of playing.  Many of the tunes are in 7/8 or 11/8.  As someone who grew up listening to prog rock, unusual time signatures hold no fear for me, but Merima is at hand with advice for those experiencing difficulty suggesting a solution, as follows:

-simply by using the the name of the famous Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky.  I am sure he will not mind if we borrow his name to help us out.  How do we do this?  Simple: ‘2’ is always ‘Peter’ and ‘3’ is ‘Tchaikovsky’.

For example, on a 7/8 bar with a 2+2+3 division, think Pe-ter Pe-ter Tchai-ko-vsky

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the style of that explanation.

What about the tunes themselves?  I’ve been working through them over the past couple of months. Some of them sound rather odd at first to the Western ear, almost like a Hollywood parody of what Eastern European music should sound like, but as many of those early Hollywood writers were of Eastern European origin, I suppose they were simply reflecting what they knew.  But I find the tunes have grown on me.  They’re not as difficult to play as I imagined.  If anything, it’s the left hand that causes the most trouble as the extra beat has a habit of falling in (what is for me) the wrong place.

If you want a change from musettes and strathspeys, then this could be the book for you.   If you’re wondering what happened to the SF, well, maybe next time…

The Museum of Curiosity

May 12, 2010

One of my favourite radio programs returned on Monday night.

The Museum of Curiosity invites three guests to suggest an artefact to be exhibited in an imaginary museum.  It has a good record of inviting scientists to make a contribution, and the first episode continues in this vein, featuring the cosmologist Marcus Chown.

Popular science is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment on the BBC, which is a good thing considering how successful successive governments’ attempts to kill it off in schools has been, so I’m all in favour of any program that gives air time to scientists amongst the endless stream of artists, politicians and journalists.  Saying that, and an added bonus for SFF fans, Terry Pratchett was also one of the guests on the first episode.

I like this program.  The humour reflects the pleasure in the fact of learning something new rather than taking the more fashionable route of being sarcastic and dismissive.

If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to the episode on BBC iPlayer up until Monday 17th May 2010 by following this link

The program’s website is here


May 3, 2010

On Saturday I participated in the Life in 2050 event, as part of Sci-Fi-London.  The aim of the event was to try and do something about the lack of British Sci-Fi Films appearing in a British Sci-Fi Film festival.  To that end, the organisers had arranged for two Scientists (Jonathan Cowie and Simon Park) to discuss new developments, whilst two writers (Philip Palmer and me) would discuss the story potential of the ideas.  Around twenty scriptwriters attended who would hopefully turn the ideas into treatments.

This was one of the most interesting and enjoyable events I have attended for ages.  For a start, it took place in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.  At lunch time we were given a fascinating tour of the exhibits: parts of men, women and children stored in pickling jars:  enough parts to resurrect an army of the dead given a sewing kit and decent bolt of lightning.  Actually, this description is probably selling the museum short – go and take a look if you’re in the area to see what I mean.

As to the event itself…

Philip Palmer led off with an introduction to the day.  I followed up with a short talk about the difference between an idea and a story, and then Jonathan Cowie got the science going with a ten minute talk about the perfect storm awaiting the planet somewhere between 2030 and 2060.  Population pressure, bacteria spreading, food shortages… it sounds rather selfish to regard all this as nothing more than raw material for film scripts, but we began to discuss possible stories.  Philip Palmer was rather taken by the looming  phosphorus shortage and we spent a happy time discussing recycling skeletons.  As Philip kept pointing out, the key to a script is great visuals, so we imagined skeletons on buses, Gothic churchyard scenes  and piles and piles of bones.

After lunch Simon Park gave an equally interesting talk on Slime Moulds and bioluminescent bacteria amongst other things, and we continued with the discussions.  It’s always interested me how different writers approach the same idea in so many different ways.  There is a tendency, I think, in beginners to worry that people will steal their ideas.  This is a mistake:  it’s the application of the idea that makes the story.  It was also nice to discuss the extrapolation of the ideas which, for me at least,  is what makes a good SF story.

This was a valid and worthwhile event, I’d be very interested in seeing more of this sort of thing.  Thank you to Robert Grant and Sci-Fi-London for organising it.  I don’t know about the screen writers, but I got a novel and several short stories out of the event…