Project 22: beautiful faces for a beautiful cause.

25 Jun

For the past months now, the second floor studio of St. George’s House in Bolton has been home to photographer John Bentley, who has been a man with a rather big project on his hands. Some doubters may have even suggested it was a project that was far too big for one man, but regardless of the challenges, John has largely met his challenge. And what was this challenge? To photograph 2,222 images of faces between the new year and June, all in aid of a worthy cause: The Lagan’s Foundation to supply home respite and support services for young children with heart defects and feeding issues across the UK.

 

Intrigued and inspired by the apparent significance of the number 22 in his life, John settled on his ambitious number of portraits. Having pared down that final number to ensure completion, John has worked morning, noon and often night to complete his project. The final aim is to have a minimum of 222 portraits to present at an exhibition at The Gallery At St George’s House, Bolton this Summer, although he has taken so many more. Sadly, you’ve missed your chance if you wanted to get your photograph taken for this astounding endeavour, but you can still see John’s exhibition and support a very commendable cause. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then John has provided beautiful insights into each of those and given us a strong clear, message: we’re all beautiful in all our own special ways. What better message to give while supporting a noble cause. In addition, ensure you come down to St. George’s House in July to view these remarkable pictures.

Hopefully John is quite happy to have some extra promotion, or as he once said to me, “F*** off, Simon!” Seriously though, you won’t find anyone who hasn’t had a fun and often self affirming experience being involved in this project, and we all owe John a great lot of thanks, as do the Lagan’s Foundation for the generous support.

To find out more and to make a donation, go to John’s site:

http://fourtwographs.co.uk/project-22/

 

Project 22 is a photographic exhibition by John Bentley, showing at The Gallery at St. George’s House, Bolton, from 7th July (9am-5pm) to 8th July (10am-2pm),

A UK election analogy: A New Hope

2 Jun

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With respect to George Lucas.

 

These are OUR Election Wars. Not so long in the future, in a galaxy not so far away…

The Tory Government is heavily shielded from criticism and carries media firepower greater than the other parties. Its defences are designed around a direct, large scale campaign assault. The everyday votes of the apathetic, young, infirm and the poor, however, should be able to penetrate the Tory majority.

The Conservatives don’t consider these good people to be of any threat, or they wouldn’t need so much defence around their policies; with no consideration for these voters. An analysis of the Conservative manifesto demonstrates huge weaknesses, that no amount of sound bites can disguise. But our approach will not be easy. We will be required to manoeuvre through Tory controlled media which will merely skim the surface when discussing Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to promote him as unelectable. The target is only open for one day. It’s a small new hope, dependent on the right votes. The positive result leads right to number 10 Downing Street. A precise amount of greater votes will start a chain reaction which will oust the Conservative government from power. Only the right, humane and considered votes from the masses will set off this chain reaction. The government is controlled by Tories with no consideration for the common man or woman, so you’ll have to use your humanity.

On June the 8th, man your polling stations. And may the Left be with you.

Labour 2017

Review: John Cale presents The Velvet Underground and Nico, at Liverpool Sound City (26th May 2017)

30 May

Velvets John Cale

Of all the revered groups of the ‘60s, none probably deserve the accolade of most influential group like The Velvet Underground. An east coast contrast to the (superficially) loved up Summer of Love, mainly concentrated on the sunny west coast, The Velvets were a very uncommercial consideration in 1967. But, years later, Brian Eno famously quipped that although their debut album had only sold 30, 000 copies, every one of those people formed their own band.

Fast forward fifty years, and the band’s most famous and successful member is no longer with us. Lou Reed’s death, and that of Sterling Morrison and chanteuse Nico, leaves only founding member John Cale and drummer Mo Tucker. Not one to get overly nostalgic, Cale felt an overwhelming urge to pay recognition to The Velvet’s legacy and fans by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground and Nico, which leads us to this first of two celebratory concerts (the second to take place, quite naturally, in New York).

My first reaction to the music was how strange it was to hear it at what was essentially a stadium gig. The album’s dark and insular themes are perhaps best suited to a more intimate environment, most likely an indoor one, so hearing The Velvet’s music in a stadium setting was a surprise to the senses, but not a completely unwelcome or unsuccessful one.

Cale

 

Taking place on the first night of Liverpool’s annual Sound City urban festival, Cale’s performance took place in a post-industrial wasteland not entirely in tune with The Velvet’s nilisitic and bleak New York origins, but not entirely at odds with it either. The dead pan cool of the band’s hey day was reinforced through a selection of images projected onto the huge screens at either side of the stage. What didn’t serve the music as well were a less than dominant sound system and a rosta of supporting players who were of variable quality. Cale started proceedings with a decent performance of ‘Waiting for the man’, although he would struggle to replicate Reed’s scornful vocals throughout, but would return to the microphone at several points in the concert. In-between, however, appeared a mixture of the very good to the mediocre. The Kills’ Alison Mossheart in memorable leather clad rock chick glory, contrasted with my favourite Velvet’s song ‘All tomorrow’s Parties’ , unfortunately diluted by Lias Saoudi from The Fat White Family. Far better when Saoudi tackled the glorious cacophony that is ‘Heroin’, with a lot more verve, and Nadije Shah delivered a pleasing ‘Femme Fatale’. None of the album’s songs were played in original order, but mixed up with other Velvets tracks. I didn’t mind this; any pretence to presenting these songs as some first heard them in 1967 or actually on disc, was quickly abandoned. That was wise; rather than a note by note reproduction, this was more of a celebration of that music’s essence, in a setting unfamiliar to the ‘60s Factory crowd.

The concert ended with an epic version of ‘Sister Ray’, where the numerous guests appeared to surrender to the music and offer their best. Cale was present throughout, an obvious talent and occasionally eager to show off his viola skills. Cutting a stylish and relatively youthful looking figure, despite his white hair, Cale remains the only original Velvets band member to remain musically active. While this might not be his finest hour, it was still an engrossing presentation of a songbook that continues to influence and inspire. While Cale is not a man who usually looks back with obvious nostalgia, and despite any weaknesses in the presentation, I was very glad he had made an exception.

 

From Rolling Stone Magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/john-cale-on-the-chaos-of-velvet-underground-w470828

John Cale will also perform The Velvet Underground and Nico with The Wordless Music Orchestra, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, on November 16th and 17th.

 

Photograph used with respect from Liverpool ECHO site.

A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar

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My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1967/03/30/cover-shoot-for-sgt-pepper/

 

Same procedure as last year?

1 Jan

dinner-for-one

As we enter another year on the Gregorian Calendar, I was reminded of a slightly eccentric tradition from Germany and other European nations. Now, Germany introduced us Brits to the Christmas Tree, which on reflection is a pretty odd idea, with more than a little pagan influence about it. Putting a full sized Douglas Fir in your living room is a pretty bizarre idea, whichever way you look at it, let alone decorating it. In more recent decades the Germans still haven’t let us down. Where UK television prides itself on the Queen’s Speech, German television have been repeating a archaic black and white comedy sketch for the last fifty years. As odd as it seems, this has become an expected tradition. Apparently their festive viewing wouldn’t be the same without it. The television recording in question is Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday (German: Der 90. Geburtstag)

I first became aware of it last year, when a colleague commented on the agenda for some student assessments. “Same procedure as every year, James”, he said. I had to ask, “who’s James?”, and he explained the reference to me.  This is the catchphrase uttered throughout the sketch, and is also the final comedic pay off. Ironically, for a sketch by a British writer, originated in England and performed in English, the sketch is largely unknown in Britain and other English speaking countries, although social media is making it better known than it was.  A major tradition in Germany, where half the population watch it every year, its charms have spread to other lands. As Wikipedia informs me, the sketch is also regularly broadcast and enjoyed in “Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands and Austria; on New Year’s Eve 2003 alone, the sketch was broadcast 19 times (on various channels). As of 2005, the sketch had been repeated more than 230 times. It is known in other countries as well, including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and South Africa” (of all other places).

An admittedly farcical but highly amusing piece of comedy from, Dinner for One revolves around the birthday dinner of upper class Englishwoman Miss Sophie. Miss Sophie’s male suitors have all died, but the table is set for them, with Miss Sophie’s butler James serving all four imaginary male guests, and drinking their alcohol as he does so, getting progressively more drunk, while failing to avoid tripping over a tiger skin rug. The reiterated instruction throughout is, “the same procedure as every year, James!”, which is repeated to rather more lewd and hilarious effect at the end.

So, as a treat for any of you who have never seen it, here is Dinner for One, filmed in 1963, but written by Lauri Wylie as early as the 1920s, and performed by May Warden and Freddie Frinton. Also, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this at any other time, in which case, do keep up!)

May all your procedures for this year be the best ones and do your very best!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinner_for_One

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 5: “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

26 Nov

So, back to the spasmodic additions to my South East Asia travel blog. Thanks for everyone’s patience; life has been busy recently, so this is a rather belated addition to the story. In the meantime, a good friend of mine has gone over to live in Cambodia, a decision I might touch upon as I give my own views on the place. He’s started his own blog as well!

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Tuk Tuks are not the only way to travel in Cambodia.

Last time I left you, I was in Siem Reap and doing my temple touring. Just so you have no illusions about how great your arrival in Siem Reap will feel, after that huge train journey and tuk tuk riding, here was me sat outside a restaurant in Siem Reap soon after my arrival:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnREkLBM3gU

“I don’t think Cambodia will be as crazy as Bangkok” I am heard to say, which is proof positive that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about at this stage in the journey. Trust me; this tale is going to get crazier before the end.

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As for temple touring, I would give as much time to this as possible as the decayed glories of the Khmer Empire deserve a sizable chunk out of your visit. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s some extra advice from me, given before I saw the wonders of Angkor Wat:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwIdOT0n2jk&feature=youtu.be

While in Siem Reap I ate some fantastic food, including the delicious noodle dish you briefly see in the first video. I mentioned this previously, but it needs saying again, I think. I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years, but still found plenty of diverse choice. If you’re a meat eater, then you’ll be spoiled. One word of warning though; I did consume some noodle soup from a street stall, which was partly necessitated by the gargantuan down pour that came from the heavens at that point. So while I sheltered from the rain, I got some food. It seemed sensible. Up to that point I had avoided any stomach ‘issues’, but not this time. I woke up with the worst stomach ache I’ve had in years and the next day spent the majority of my coach journey to Phnom Pehn trying not to move any muscle in my lower regions, less a tragic accident occur. Once I arrived in the capital I was able to get some remedies and my sickness cleared up. You are unlikely to get away with a reaction to the change in climate, food and general environment, but be cautious.

While in Siem Reap I found myself falling in with a group of ex-pats and long term visitors. Two blokes were discussing ‘Brexit’ in a bar at the end of Pub Street (the town’s main concession to increased tourism) and offered an opinion. Next minute, I was invited over and seven hours later was still lout drinking.  For those who visit Siem Reap, there is a bar called Picasso’s, which forms the hub of the ex-pat community, and is well worth a visit (it’s very stylish, but be warned, a bit more expensive that the usual). Nick Dale, one of the older guys I was talking to, is a writer who is trying to get a book published about his on-going relationship with his daughter, who is trans-gender, and the issues she faces. It was an extremely poignant and heartfelt story, and I was privileged Nick shared it. I hope all works out for them and the book is a success.

Nick’s tale, and many others like it, give me the impression that Siem Reap, and Cambodia in general, is a place to escape to in order to find clarity. Perhaps removed from the safe and the expected, a Westerner can find a new kind of clarity surrounded by the comparatively strange and unknown, and through that find new ways of seeing.

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 4: Not quite ‘Tomb Raider’, but my name IS Croft.

30 Sep

For a very long time, Siem Reap was a small town in the north west of Cambodia that if anyone visited it at all, it was because of the nearby Angkor Wat, one of the great monuments of the world. People still visit it because of Angkor Wat, but Siem Reap has become a destination in its own right. It has a post-French colonial cool all of its own, which is enough to tempt many travellers. But a word of caution; Cambodia has several micro climates and in this part of the country things get hot. They get very hot indeed.

 

On the taxi journey to Siem Reap, I met Jimi, a very interesting guy from India, who is now working abroad. As I mentioned, his brother runs the guesthouse The River Queen in Siem Reap, which I recommend you investigate.

As for Siem Reap itself, the town’s name literally means ‘Siam Defeated’, which refers to the Khymer sacking of the Thai city of Ayutthaya in the 17th Century, if you ever get the sense Thai people look down on Cambodia, this does nothing in their defence. Imagine Anglo-Euro relations if Manchester was re-christened Germany Defeated. Yeah, see what I mean? Bold and blunt people, those Cambodians. I’m just glad they weren’t on the losing side; just imagine.

 

Siem Reap is quite a nice town, showing off much of its previous French influence and its Colonial buildings and tree lined boulevards do give it a unique charm, although the recent addition of ‘Pub Street’ does remind me more of the more hedonistic sights of the Costa Del Sol.

 

My stay in Siem Reap was at The Dancing Frog hostel, which was a pleasant enough stay. However, while in Siem Reap I finally succumbed to stomach issues, a moment I had been anticipating since I arrived in South East Asia, and began eating the food and just generally engaging with an alien environment. That Khymer Soup I bought from a street stall probably didn’t help either. There were more flies than people queuing up for that business; one of them was so big it could have been thinking about taking a chair. I just wish I’d seen them all before I placed my order, sat down and put the last spoonful in my mouth.

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Anyway, more about the outcome of that later, not to mention my adventures actually in Siem Reap, including the fascinating Nick Dale and his in progress book about his transgender daughter. That was quite a story. But more about him later. The main attraction, while in Siem Reap, is undoubtedly the Angkor temple complex, and Angkor Wat in particular. Angkor Wat, for those not in the know, is the largest religious monument in the world. Its name literally means ‘City which is a temple’ If there’s one thing you’re possibly picking up from this blog article, it’s that the Khymer people tell it like it is when it comes to place names. The Angkor complex is very close to Siem Reap. In a car, if you put your foot down, you could reach your first temples in less than 20 minutes, but this is a journey you’ll want to savour, so speed won’t be your aim.

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Angkor Wat was built in the 12th Century by King Suryavarman II, at the height of The Khymer Empire, one of the great Asian civilizations. It was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, with the whole layout based on a mandala, the sacred design of the Hindu cosmos. It is now considered a sacred Buddhist site, having been converted to a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. There are three levels to Angkor Wat before you reach the inner shrine, and it’ll take you a fair while to walk there. By that point you’ll have had the experience of walking through the main causeway and into the temple proper, a never to be repeated experience of awe and jaw dropping disbelief. It will stay with you for a very long time, perhaps forever. One of the seminal, singularly impressive moments of my trip, I have to admit. I don’t have the in depth knowledge to do Angkor Wat justice, but I do urge you to investigate it further. It truly is one of the man made marvels of the world. Extraordinary.

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The day before I’d visited many of the ‘lesser’ temples around Angkor, which proved to be on eof the hottest days I experienced in South East Asia. Trust me, if you’re not wearing sun screen, a hat and drinking lots of water you will suffer the consequences.

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Here I am, looking bucket soaked and on the verge of sun stroke, and with an unreliable camera stick, but still willing to do an impromptu outside broadcast for you good people:

 

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Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in Cambodia. Some are far away from where I was based, and have truly been enveloped by the jungle, but are now slowly being offered as realistic tourist destinations. Other temples in the vicinity of Siem Reap include Angkor Thom, which was the largest city in the Khymer Empire at the time (late 12th Century), and includes The Bayon, an extraordinary structure  featuring 54 towers, three levels and 200 huge stone faces, which may represent the all seeing and knowing Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Try saying that after a few Khymer beers. Elsewhere in the vast complex, Ta Prohm is practically a ruin, but its beauty lies in the way the temple has almost become one with the forest, with great buttresses entwined with the masonry. Many of you will know Ta Prohm from its memorable appearance in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

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As I explain in the video clip, the usual practice for tourists is to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day. A taxi would be far too expensive, and a tuk tuck means you get to ride around din the fresh air. Well, when I say ‘fresh air’, I am referring to some of the most stifling heat I’ve ever known. Fortunately my man had a seemingly unending supply of ice cold water, so respect due to him.

So, the most visually impressive part of the trip and in some respects a highlight. But there’s still plenty more to come…

Next time: elephants, monkeys and more temples!