Archive for May, 2011

1911 No. 2: W.S. Gilbert

Posted in 1911, Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

W.S. Gilbert died 100 years ago. Here is part of a letter he wrote to Sir Arthur Sullivan in May 1884, following Sullivan’s rejection of his latest plot for a Savoy opera – Richard D’Oyly Carte had given them six months to come up with another one.

They patched up their differences, however, and Gilbert, the story goes, was inspired by a Japanese sword falling off the wall of his study to come up with The Mikado.

After the lapse of a week during which I wrote three lyrics and a considerable amount of dialogue, I received a letter from you to the effect that you could not bring yourself to like the plot, and that you wished me to construct a story in which there would be no supernatural or improbable element. This specification of your wishes, expressed as it was, for the first time, some four months after the production of Princess Ida, seemed to me to be so wholly unreasonable that I had no alternative but to express my regret that it was impossible for me to agree to your suggestion. Upon this you wrote to me that you felt convinced that my decision was final, and that therefore further discussion was useless. And so ends a musical and literary association of seven years’ standing – an association of exceptional reputation – an association unequalled in its monetary results, and hitherto undisturbed by a single jarring or discordant element. In justification of the course that I adopted in declining to construct a new libretto, I must point out to you that your own course of action in desiring me to do so, can only be justified on the assumption that, by the terms of our agreement, I am bound to go on constructing new libretti until I hit upon one which meets your views as to what a libretto should be. That you regard my relation towards yourself as of this servile nature, I do not for one moment believe. As reasonably might I suppose that a composer of your distinction is bound to set to music any words with which I might think fit to supply him. You must remember that we are not absolutely free agents – that I am not in the position of an author who comes to a composer with a suggestion which the composer is at entire liberty to reject – this would be our relation to one another if no agreement existed. But as a matter of fact, an agreement does exist – an agreement entered into presumably on the assumption that we have sufficient confidence in each other – you to accept my plots as belief to be good enough for your purpose, I to accept your musical setting as adding an invaluable element of attraction to my libretto. That my duty is to supply you with a series of pieces ‘on approval’ I cannot for one moment admit.

If you desired to devote a year to the composition of (say) a grand opera, I should, with Carte’s consent, have been most willing to forgo, for such a period, the agreement by which we are bound. I would even have accepted the subordinate position which the librettist of such an opera must necessarily occupy, if you considered that a work of such an ambitious class would, in any way, be furthered by my co-operation. But I need hardly remind you that such a work would be wholly and ridiculously out of place at the Savoy Theatre.

Brown Bread: Gil Scott-Heron

Posted in Music, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

(Source: Grauniad)

The musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron – best known for his pioneering rap The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – has died at the age of 62, having fallen ill after a European trip.

Jamie Byng, his UK publisher, announced the news via Twitter: “Just heard the very sad news that my dear friend and one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, the great Gil Scott-Heron, died today.”

Scott-Heron’s spoken word recordings helped shape the emerging hip-hop culture. Generations of rappers cite his work as an influence.

He was known as the Godfather of Rap but disapproved of the title, preferring to describe what he did as “bluesology” – a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and jazz, all shot through with a piercing social conscience and strong political messages, tackling issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.

“If there was any individual initiative that I was responsible for it might have been that there was music in certain poems of mine, with complete progression and repeating ‘hooks’, which made them more like songs than just recitations with percussion,” Scott-Heron wrote in the introduction to his 1990 Now and Then collection of poems.

He was best known for The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the critically acclaimed recording from his first album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, and for his collaborations with jazz/funk pianist and flautist Brian Jackson.

In The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, first recorded in 1970, he issued a fierce critique of the role of race in the mass media and advertising age. “The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning or white people,” he sang.

He performed at the No Nukes concerts, held in 1979 at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were organised by a group called Musicians United for Safe Energy and protested against the use of nuclear energy following the meltdown at Three Mile Island. The group included singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt.

Scott-Heron’s song We Almost Lost Detroit, written about a previous accident at a nuclear power plant, is sampled on rapper Kanye West’s single The People. Scott-Heron’s 2010 album, I’m New Here, was his first new studio release in 16 years and was hailed by critics. The album’s first song, On Coming From a Broken Home, is an ode to his maternal grandmother, Lillie, who raised him in Jackson, Tennessee, until her death when he was 13. He moved to New York after that.

Scott-Heron was HIV positive and battled drug addiction through most of his career. He spent a year and a half in prison for possession. In a 2009 interview he said that his jail term had forced him to confront the reality of his situation.

“When you wake up every day and you’re in the joint, not only do you have a problem but you have a problem with admitting you have a problem.” Yet in spite of some “unhappy moments” in the past few years he still felt the need to challenge rights abuses and “the things that you pay for with your taxes”.

“If the right of free speech is truly what it’s supposed to be, then anything you say is all right.”

Scott-Heron’s friend Doris Nolan said the musician had died at St Luke’s hospital on Friday afternoon. “We’re all sort of shattered,” she told the Associated Press.

The title track from his last album I’m New Here contains the line “I’m hard to get to know, impossible to forget”, which pretty much sums up the man and his music.

An interesting fact is that his father, also called Gil, or more properly Gilbert, played football for Celtic in 1951, becoming the first black player to play for Celtic and I think the second ever black player to play in the Scottish football league.

R.I.P. Gil Scott-Heron 1949-2011

Poached chicken with asparagus

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

The crucial thing with this dish is to use a good strong chicken stock.

4 free-range chicken breasts
500g asparagus with the woody ends trimmed
500ml good strong chicken stock
2-3 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the asparagus about 3-4 cm from the tips and roughly chop the ends, reserving the tips. Cook the chopped ends in some of the chicken stock for 5-6 minutes until soft, then remove with a slotted spoon and blend to a smooth purée in a blender.

Place the chicken breasts in a wide saucepan and pour in the liquid that the asparagus has cooked in, and cover with the rest of the stock. Season, cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 6-7 minutes, then leave in the liquid.

Cook the asparagus tips in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender and drain.

To serve, re-heat the purée and spoon on to warmed serving plates and place the chicken on top. Toss the asparagus tips in a pan with some of the olive oil and season; then scatter over the chicken. Drizzle some more oil over.

1911 No. 1: Vincent Price

Posted in 1911, Culture, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Taking a look back at what happened 100 years ago, I find that the actor Vincent Price was born on 27 May 1911. The clip is from The Comedy of Terrors, one of the funniest films you will ever see. Featuring Vincent Price himself, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. If you don’t believe that a film could have such a great cast, check it out.

Vincent Price, a Suave but Menacing Film Presence, Is Dead at 82 (New York Times obituary)

Grilled tuna with roast tomatoes

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

16 cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 oregano or marjoram sprigs, leaves stripped
1 tablespoon capers
26 Spanish black olives, pitted
4 tuna steaks

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Mix the cherry tomatoes, garlic, 5 tablespoons of the oil and oregano (or marjoram) in a bowl before pouring everything onto a baking tray. Roast for around 15 to 20 minutes, until the tomatoes look as though they are about to collapse and their skins are crinkled. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once they’ve cooled, add the tomatoes to a salad bowl, scraping in the delicious juices from the baking tray, then stir through the capers and olives.

Ideally, for the next stage you should use a ridged griddle pan. If you don’t have one of these, use a heavy-duty cast-iron frying pan instead. Heat the griddle pan until it’s very hot before adding the remaining oil. Season the tuna steaks and add them to the pan – don’t overcrowd the pan – if you’ve got a large grill or barbecue, then of course they can be cooked all at the same time. I love rare tuna, which means that the steaks need only a minute or so on each side, but grill the tuna according to how well cooked you like them.

Place the tuna steaks on plates and put the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the steaks. Eat immediately.

Poetry Corner

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

This is my only published poem. It is, in fact, made up of two poems, scribbled on the backs of envelopes, about 1990; so much time has elapsed that I cannot now remember which lines belong to which poem. However, the name of the woman I was in love with at the time can be made out if you look closely. The title is not quite right; can anyone think of a better one?

Recollection

I recall the yellowing day
Coming down the years
When idleness was all
And never enough for us.

Whole afternoons we rose
Cidering, barley wining,
Beering our laughter to echo
Down these years of hangovers.

I am there again,
Standing alone I stare
As a cloud falls over the moon
Before four o’clock
And the sky not yet dark.

I am weary of watching
Swift passing clouds,
The atmosphere, a smokescreen
For a world shielding itself
From a malevolent wrathful creator.

This is a cold time.
We embrace Death,
Our lips touch his
In a frigid kiss.

See, nothing of your love abides now
On my imperfect shadow.

Tracey Emin: “Art in Britain has never been better”

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

The artist opened her first major London retrospective today, and called it the “defining moment of her career”.

(Source: Telegraph)

Renowned for her controversial and often explicit work, she has spent a large part of her artistic career defending herself to the public. Yet today, as she opened her new show at London’s Hayward Gallery, Tracey Emin appeared markedly mellowed and presented her work with subdued confidence:

“This is the biggest defining moment of my art career. I am really proud of the exhibition. I don’t feel I have to defend it, I’m comfortable in it,” she said.

Talking about contemporary British art, she said that she was heartened that she and her fellow YBAs were “now finally getting recognition” – and added that art in Britain has never been better.

The exhibition is said to introduce the public to Emin’s lesser-known works – and self. Spanning the course of her career, the exhibition includes a series of photographs of the artist running naked down an East London street, as well as personal documents: love letters, the ashes from a shop she co-owned in 1993, archived paraphernalia and diary entries from the time of her abortion, and a blown-up photograph of her family at a village wrestling tournament on holiday in Turkey.

Her seminal work, The Tent (also called Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995) in which she famously embroidered the names of all her lovers on the inside walls is not in the show. Today Emin expressed some remorse for the work, saying that she no longer uses names in any work:

“I know the repercussions of these works … I’m still very open but I now keep a little bit to myself.”

Tracey Emin: Love Is What You Want is at the Hayward Gallery until 29 August

Tracey Emin retrospective: in pictures

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