Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Trio-mphe? H'mph...

It was finished in December. It was hard parting with this composition, like giving a child away. I still miss it, to tinker with and call my own. It took me 18 months, on and off, to write.

 Trio Hoboken: Saskia Lethiec (violin), Eric Picard (cello), Jérôme Granjon (piano)

Anyway, since then it's been with Saskia, Jérôme and Eric, the musicians who are going to give it its first performance on Friday, June 15th, in the little 9th-Century chapel called the Prieuré de St Julien, below.

Prieuré de St Julien, Hérault département, France

It's crammed with visual images, mostly about the village. The up-and-down outline of its shape. Crocodiles of infant classes going to the school canteen. The village cats. A lizard, even. The youth of the village assembling behind the bus shelter, revving their bikes. A little old lady dancing - in this instance, trying to do the Gay Gordons without falling over. The time in about 1930 when the church roof fell in during Mass. (No one was hurt. A miracle?) The monsoon-like rain that sometimes soaks us. A love duet for cello and violin, over a plainchant accompaniment, inspired by the Prieuré, the place where it will actually have its first performance. The strong  Spanish element in local dances...

Do you (i.e. does anyone) see pictures, form visual impressions when you listen to music? Of events, or places, or people? I know I do. One of the poverties of modern popular music is that it depends so heavily on the visual, and the visual becomes more important than the music. It's all done for you, your choice in the matter has been stolen from you. Is this a terribly unfashionable, indeed arrogant, thing to say?

Anyway, I've managed to cram about 5 minutes'-worth of extracts here:

With this time limit it isn't possible to include all the things listed above. It's not the real thing - I'll post that after performance, all being well - it's the approximation my composition software comes up with. I hope you enjoy it. And if you should happen to be in this area on June 15th, do come to the concert, details here, click on CONCERTS 2012. I should be so pleased to see you.

(Copyright 2011, of course, though it seems churlish to mention it. But you have my full permission to hum the tunes if you want to.)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Through a local lens No.12

Yesterday morning I went down early to the village to buy a few croissants. I've long since grown out of this ikon of francophiles, but as M. Gosset the master baker is retiring in a couple of days J. and I thought we might treat ourselves. Oh dear.

But we will miss a special wholemeal bread he makes, especially as it comes in the form of the sliced pan loaf, so handy for sandwiches or the toaster. There's been a bit of playing the futures market here, to the extent that our freezer now houses some 18 Gosset loaves.

M. Gosset is Belgian, yet another of the expats who have holed up round here. He assures everyone that croissants originally came from the Near East. His compatriot Godefroi de Bouillon brought them back from the crusades in about 1100. We may have been privileged to have had some of the originals.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Back to the wall

It's a life sentence, really. I don't think it will ever be finished. It has taken me 7 years to complete what you see here. (Mind you, there are other walls elsewhere that I've finished.)

The problem is finding the stones. Local rocks are metamorphic. They're all schists and shales and marbles, twisted and ungrateful lumps, unsociable geological misfits that utterly resist any kind of companionship with their fellows. It's a red letter day when, in driving about, I find a flat or right-angled stone, one that maybe with a little persuasion from 7lb hammer and bolster will fit with another. I shudder to a halt, leap out and whisk it into the boot (trunk, if you're reading this in the USA or Canada, and I hope you are).

Another local wall-builder, Marcel, hailed me the other day as I was trudging along the lane pushing our wheelbarrow with a large stone in it, one the size of a pillow. I'd noticed it lurking, half-buried in the undergrowth a short distance from our house. Marcel gave me secret information, similar in value to the map Columbus returned to Spain with in 1493. He knew where there were some flat stones. Well, flattish.

I drive high up into the mountains, stopping on the way to enjoy the extraordinary views of our valley and village from two or three thousand feet up. I follow Marcel's directions to the letter. There are indeed outcrops and scatters of flattish and very useful sandstone. Does the Liberté of the French motto entitle me to help myself? Does Egalité mean anyone, even humble foreigners like me, has the right to plunder the very substance of France? Am I alone up there on the mountain tops? I am not. It seems there is a Fraternité of stone-gatherers: the first vehicle I see is a builder's truck with a sturdy youth running beside it, loading it at intervals with these beautiful slabs.

I find a rich haul, enough to feel the load on the brakes as I drive back down again. Thank you, Marcel.

I'm not really conscience-stricken. That builder salved it for me. But all the same I'm reminded of the fate of Edward II of England, a man apparently much given to digging holes and building walls. A useful sort of bloke to have as king, you would have thought, but no: his kingship was so appalling that he had to be done away with. According to legend the method of his execution in 1327 was so unspeakably grotesque that delicacy forbids me to do more than refer to it obliquely through the image below. H'm. He should have kept his back to the wall, shouldn't he?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Who was Miss Watts?

(The writing has come out much smaller than I thought it would. The upper inscription says 'Campbell Lammerton', and the lower '(Drawn by) Miss Watts'. Now you can put your glasses back on/take them off.)

Going through some old papers with a view to throwing them putting them back in the drawer again I found these, done when I was a 23-year-old student.


1. Yes, I did smoke a pipe.

2. No, I did not play rugby for Scotland.

3. Yes, I did sometimes need to stand on a rostrum.

4. No, I can't remember who Miss Watts was, but Angela Gordon was gorgeous.

5. Yes, I did have a beard.


1. With some effort, I stopped smoking in June 1985. The least agonising way to give up was to concentrate on activities in which I was physically unable to smoke a pipe. For some reason I could never play the piano and smoke at the same time. I've never played better since. I gave my one and only piano recital at that time. Or take a bath, that was something else incompatible with smoking. I was very clean. My first wife did not notice that I'd given up. She gave me a 2oz tin of Gold Block pipe tobacco for the following Christmas.

2. Still no call from the SRFA selection committee. I fear it may be too late.

3. I think I may have grown since.

4. Miss Watts, if you happen to read this, you might like to remind me who you were? (No impersonations, please.)

5. I didn't keep it very long. There were inexplicable ginger hairs in it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Famous Five vs. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Some people admit, during their youth, to smoking weed, forming inappropriate relationships, to under-age drinking, to causing riot and affray, playing Knock up Ginger, ringing up somebody in the telephone directory called Smellie to ask if they were, to being addicted to blackberry-flavoured fruit gums, to locking their sister in the shed for five hours, to stealing the next-door neighbours' tulips as a last-minute Mothers' Day present, to looking up 'anus' in the dictionary...

I plead not guilty to many of these - for instance, our shed had no lock - but I have to admit with shame to a passing passion for Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories. It didn't last long. All I can remember now is total identification with Julian, being intrigued that any couple should call themselves Mr and Mrs Stick, by a sinister butler called Block, an ineffectual teacher called Mr Luffy, and a description of a car, probably the one above, whose headlights were so powerful that they could pick out the country lanes for half a mile ahead. Oh yes, and my vocabulary grew by one word, 'deft', which is how Anne was described. I don't think I've had occasion to use it since. I think I'd grown out of them by the time I was 9.

Apparently the first Famous Five story came out in 1942. I found a display of Famous Five book covers in a newspaper the other day - that's one of them at the top - to celebrate 70 years. They never aged, those kids. Julian would now be about 82, banging on endlessly in his retirement home about buried treasure, secret tunnels, spook trains, kidnappers and Kirrin Island, where he understood his sister Anne, now 77 and her civil partner Georgina (81) now lived and eked out a miserable existence distilling useless essential oils from seaweed and bickering about whose turn it was to stroke the stuffed collie...

...beneath this article there appeared the usual two or three supposedly targeted adverts. One read, as far as I remember:

2008 was God's warning. May 27th, 2012 will see collapse of the USA economy, WWIII.

I don't begin to understand what analysis and filtration of previous purchases or internet searches caused this one to end up on my screen, but here's the link if you're interested. But I do assure you nobody need worry about anything at all. It's clearly a case for The Famous Five, always one up on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They'll see to everything, sort everything out. And tuck us in at night.