Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Music I Love - 'I'

I was, to be honest, expecting this entry in my A-Z of Music I Love to be a little more difficult. To be sure many artists are here just for a couple of tracks and there are fewer albums featured than I've managed for other letters of the alphabet, but hey... 'I' was not so stressful as I had feared!

I'm going to kick things of with Frank Ifield. A favourite of my Grandma Burke, he was a very pleasant crooner with an unfortunate tendency to suddenly descend into the odd yodelling outbreak. Many people think of him as Australian, but he was born in Warwickshire in 1937. His parents were Australian, however and unsurprisingly when they returned to live in Australia in 1946 he went with them...

He entered the charts in 1960 with Lucky Devil, a song which reached No.22 and which I have still, some 57 years later, yet to hear. He entered my conciousness with I Remember You which I think was one of only three singles my Grandma ever had (the others were both Frank Ifield songs too - told you she was a fan...) It gave him his first No.1 hit. It was by no means a new song. There's a clip from a 1940s wartime film on YouTube where Dorothy Lamour sings it with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and I wouldn't like to be pushed on which is my favourite version.

His next two singles followed I Remember You to the No.1 slot. They were Lovesick Blues and The Wayward Wind, which were my Grandma's other two singles. The latter contained no yodelling at all, perhaps because the B Side to Lovesick Blues was called She Taught Me How To Yodel and was almost entirely an Austrian mountain cow-herd's instruction manual with the last verse performed entirely as a yodelling marathon at double speed. His final No.1 came with Confessin' into which a minimal amount of yodelling was inserted, presumably to keep his Austrian audience happy. Today at 79 years of age, Frank is still touring with a show called 'I Remember You' - an intimate audience with Frank Ifield & friends in which he tells his story and sings a few songs including the hits.

Enrique Iglesias is the son of Spain's most successful singer, the great Julio Doubleglesias, whoops I mean Julio Iglesias. Enrique charmed a new generation of Iglesias worshippers with a debut top ten hit Bailamos and followed it with some lip-quivering ballads including a duet with Whitney Houston: Could I have This Kiss Forever. Girls went mad... I don't know what he's got that I haven't? I could be your hero, baby... I could kiss away your pain...

Imaani. The 1998 Eurovision Song Contest. She came second for the UK with Where Are You against a field that was filled with some great songs. 1998 was one of the classic years. We've come nowhere near as close since then.

Once upon a time if you were Australian and cute, the way into a singing career was via a TV soap opera. Natalie Imbruglia was one such racking up three top ten hits, two of which reached No.2, just a smidgeon off the top spot. She also provoked one of the more shocking or amusing, depending on your viewpoint, moments of Britain's Got Talent when a plainly untalented contestant after a rebuttal asked "And who are you exactly???" followed swiftly by her singing partner (obviously a fan) delivering a clenched fist to her chin.

They only had one entry in the charts according to my copy of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, but of course there were many other records from The Ink Spots that pre-dated the official charts. The retail index charts based on record sales started in 1960 but the New Musical Express had compiled a weekly chart from 1952, albeit a top twelve only for the first two years. Perhaps the most famous hit these days would be Whispering Grass which resurfaced in later dates courtesy of Sandy Denny and then Windsor Davies and Don Estelle in their personas from TV's It Ain't Half Hot Mum. But there were others such as Java Jive (I like coffee, I like tea...), If I Didn't Care, It's a Sin To Tell a Lie, I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire and more.

The Isley Brothers. I almost think of them as having a career of two halves. The first brought those great Motown hits such as This Old Heart Of Mine, I Guess I'll Always Love You, Behind a Painted Smile, and Put Yourself In My Place. The second came with their move to the Epic label and with it a new sound for hits like That Lady, Highways Of My Life, Summer Breeze (I just love the guitar on that!), Harvest For The World etc.

And finally The Ivy League who had several sixties hits including top ten hits Funny How Love Can Be and Tossing And Turning. See you next time for the letter 'J'!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

World War One Era Autograph Book, Part 2

A second look inside the old autograph book, picked up at a book fair recently.

I mentioned the last time that I thought this book had been carried through the war. All dated entries fall between 1915 and 1919 but there are far more blank pages than used ones. A few have a military theme and here is one of those...

I suspect now that the book was in use during the war, but not actually taken to the front. It's in far too clean and undamaged a state. There are no mud - or blood - stains and no torn or scuffed pages. Perhaps the references to the war were completed during periods of leave or just after demobilisation?

This pencil sketch is titled Directing The Way At The Front and shows one soldier saying "Yer knows the dead 'orse 'cross the road? Well keep straight on till yer comes to a p'rambulation 'longside a Johnson ole."

A Johnson hole was a particularly large shell crater. Named for its size and referring to the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion to 1915, Jack Johnson.

Here's a small photograph print gummed into the book.

I'm no motorbike expert I'm afraid. The closest model to this that I've been able to find going through Google images is of a Sunbeam - see advert below.

This advert dates from 1915 so is the right era. Seventy guineas is £73.50, a considerable sum in those days. You would have to spend roughly £106 in 2017 to buy something that cost £1 in 1915. So today such a motorcycle would cost £7,791 give or take a groat... On the other hand, what would that same 1915 motorcycle be worth now in working condition?

Ah... hang on - a message has flooded in! The motorcycle in your photo is a 1915 AJS D1 750cc 2cyl side valve. You can just make out the AJS logo on the side of the tank. They usually had a rear pillion but this one looks to have a luggage rack instead. All the very best Chris Hartley. Many thanks Chris!

Agh! This photograph has been gummed over some existing writing on the page. The bottom of the page is signed A Waring, May 30th 1918. I was despairing of ever being able to remove the photo safely without damaging what was under it when I had an idea. I took out a bright LED torch and shone it through the page from the other side. A word at a time, moving the LED along the lines I eventually made out this:

I slept and dreamt that life was beauty
I woke and found that life was duty
Never say die
Up man and try

The first two lines come from a poem by Ellen Sturgis Hooper. I've had less success identifying the origin of the, perhaps more familiar, last two lines. They seem to go back to proverb and idiom. If anyone knows better, please let me know!

Along similar poetic lines here's my closing look at the old autograph book for this time.

When it comes your wedding day
A new broom I will send
In sunshine use the bushy end
In storm the other end

Margaret Salt, 12 June 1919

Saturday, 4 March 2017

First Attempt At Art Using Oil Pastels

Yes I know I've been a bit (a bit???) quiet on the blog this year. But this may go some way as to explain why. For some time I've been producing my pencil sketches a few every year, mainly done whilst on holiday. Last year I tried a couple of water colours over the top of existing sketches. I was fancying having a go at something more spectacular and challenging.

And this is it. An oil pastel painting based on a photograph of Villefranche which lies between Nice and Monaco on the French Mediterranean coast. There was a certain amount of preparatory work for this. I had no easel. I had no pastels... And to make it worthwhile it had to be done on a larger scale than anything I've attempted before. So the bits and pieces of equipment and pastel sticks were bought and a pad of pristine white paper in an A2 size sketch pad. I started work on the 24 January 2017 and finished yesterday morning on 3 March 2017. Not that I've worked eight hours a day every day, though... I've stuck little bits on my FaceBook account as I've been going along and a friend suggested I should collate them into an article. So this is it...

24 January 2017. The easel and paper is set up in the conservatory which will give me enough light to work with. I had been wanting to draw a colour sketch of Villefranche for some time so trawling through my photos of various visits over the years I printed one out onto A4 paper and used that as a guide. At this stage there was no real anticipation of producing anything wonderful and I didn't really think I'd be able to fit a load of detail in using pastels, but drew my usual style of pencil sketch anyway, but without any shading or detail such as foliage.

29 January 2017. This being the equivalent of four A4 sheets, there was no way of scanning it so I had to take photos of each stage. Whilst it was in the pure black and white (or grey of pencil) stage this meant I had to tweak the photo quite a bit to bring out the detail at the expense of the paper going dark and looking dirty! It took five days to get to this stage. A lot of the work got done in five minute bursts whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil... Even as just a pencil sketch, this was still the largest thing I've ever done and I was starting to realise that I didn't want to spoil it!

3 February 2017. Very little had happened this week in fact, as other things were going on that took my attention. I had decided that I was going to use the pastels even though I might lose detail and to test this out a bit I started with the orange building on the left hand side. I tried it out on a piece of A4 paper first to gauge my technique and adjust if necessary. I bought a set of blending sticks which looked a bit like paintbrushes, but with rubber (like pencil erasers) instead of bristles at the end. I was also trying out techniques for the sky area. The first go was a real mess and I bought a cheap book on painting with pastels and tried out on another sheet of paper the techniques they described.

4 February 2017. After a couple of goes on an A4 sheet - one good, one bad - I thought "What the heck!" and went for it. I also tried out an area of distant hillside and a tiny building in the distance.

5 February 2017. I spent the morning adding in defining details to the upper storeys of the orange building and then tackled mountainside. The latter also has a few small buildings here and there. That was it for the day as we'd been invited out to celebrate a 60th birthday. Next steps will be to complete the background and do the cliffs towards the right-hand side. That was going to be another suck-it-and-see test on a fresh piece of paper before committing to the actual painting. I found that small items such as roofs and windows on the background buildings were best done with a tiny smudge of colour and then using one of the blending tools. For thin black lines I chose a blending tool shaped like a paintbrush and applied minute bits of paint by rubbing the blender on the top of the stick of pastel. I got enough pigment to do a millimetre at a time, two at the most. The hillside was done using brown and two shades of green and drawing intersecting wavy lines before blending the colours with my finger. Over on the left hand side a dark red was also added to the mix.

9 February 2017. A close up of the detail in the top left corner. Yet a third shade of green was used quite thickly to suggest trees and foliage. A bit tentatively at first with a couple of lines to suggest footpaths or roads along the mountainside, but then the yellow building got done and the cypress trees at the side of it and they were a sort of happy stumbling on something that made me use that shade quite a lot afterwards for trees and foliage!

11 February 2017. My FaceBook update went: I did quite a bit yesterday and have added to it today, but now getting ready to go hospital visiting and as it's half-term next week and we will have Grace a few days it might have to go upstairs out of the way! More hillside done, more trees and foliage added. A few more buildings done - I learned the hard way you can't mix colours easily. I'm sure you'll be able to spot where I found this out... Lower storeys of the orange building started and the car which Miss Franny said had to be blue. Suspicious now... I've never had that blue a car...

13 February 2017. I spent the previous day on the left hand side, working towards the lower part of the painting. The sea was going to be left until the very end. For one thing it was going to be complicated and needed a lot of layering of colours which I wasn't too sure of as yet. And for another, I suspected it may have to be done as one complete portion to avoid any obvious vertical breaks that might occur if I attempted t do it bit by bit. And for a third and final thing - proving that you can start two consecutive sentences with the word "and" - I always work top left to bottom right so that my hand doesn't smudge bits I've already done. I wasn't yet ready to make myself a long dowel with a small bean bag on the end to act as a hand rest whilst painting over bits already done.

Today I took a very deep breath and headed for the cliffs. One of those "this could ruin it" moments. I used grey and a dark ochre and smeared them together vertically, using the ochre to suggest soil seeping from ledges. I figured they were too far in the distance to start drawing cracks in the rockface so instead used small amounts of black to suggest the shadows caused by clefts and breaks in strata. Adding foliage along the ledges helped the illusion. I was not particularly keen on the far-too-pink building and friends agreed, with one suggesting it stood out like "a dog's..." well, never mind... I will see if I can tone it down any! Half Term starts and I move the easel upstairs for a week where it won't get knocked over accidentally.

21 February 2017. It's back downstairs and being worked. I have to hold my hand up and admit I never expected to manage this amount of detail. The sea still awaits to trip me up though. And the windows and shutters are getting smaller all the time now... I put a darker red pigment over the pink and managed to tone it down a bit.

25 February 2017. By now I was spending more time on it each day as it was starting to get quite exciting! Each time it's noticeable that the white untouched area is shrinking. A couple more foreground buildings to the right, another swathe of hillside and the large building - university, school or just apartments? - done. At the bottom, the sea wall extended and I swapped some concrete for a more picturesque Lake District style wooden jetty. Well they should have done it proper in the first place... The inflatable boat has been done and I gave a huge sigh of relief afterwards I can tell you! It will probably need a bit of tidying after the sea goes round it. And that's another serious psyching-up moment to come!

28 February 2017. The previous three days saw me just about reach a landmark. The next mark will be a seamark! The last few hotels have been done, the remaining buildings on the hillside and what looks like the old town walls at the right hand side (in the real Villefranche they support the railway!) had me trying a new technique for blending colours. I found it very hard to get a suggestion that it was made from large blocks of stone... Now the sea beckons and I need to experiment on fresh paper to get a technique for mixing horizontal splashes of colour for the sea with the verticals of the reflected colours of buildings etc. I commented on FaceBook "The next time you see it, I will either have finished or ripped it up and you will see it in the bin..." I'm pleased to say a number of people begged me not to rip it up!

3 March 2017. Sorry about the copyright notice, but despite the copyright notice already on this blog to the left it is absolutely amazing how many times my photos from this blog turn up without people having the courtesy to mention where they came from. I allow use for non-profit purposes but ask that I am credited. Most people now assume copyright doesn't matter, I've even had someone suggest I was deliberately spoiling his book by refusing to allow him to simply copy the tiny photo on here for a book without any consideration and he dismissed my suggestion that I would need to provide a large scan and then clean it up because old negatives and slides will be dirty. Duh... The Internet works at 72 dots per inch. Books work at least at 600 dots per inch. If you just lift an image for a book off here you could hope to get a good quality image if it was printed no more than half an inch wide. In the end after I refused, he protested that he was going to offer me a discount off his book (it was going to sell priced around £40!!!) Anyway, please bear in mind that I spent the 1980s and 90s freelancing to magazines. My photos were taken when it cost money to take photos and they were taken with the intention of selling them. So sorry about the copyright notice over the pic and the slight rant...

I had been seriously driving myself nuts about starting the sea area. I did a Google search for pastel paintings water reflections video and watched a few to see how people had done them. There are some really good videos about to help artists. So on the 2nd of March at tea time I started drawing horizontal lines of colour onto the sea area. The colours were all of those that would appear reflected from the relevant area above the waterline and positioned where I thought the top of the reflection would start. I ended up with a mess of horizontal lines of colour, lots of white space and my heart in my mouth.

Then where I had room, I used a finger and smeared downwards to the bottom of the paper. An artist friend - I'm going to name her, Christine (Katie) Astbury - gave me loads of help through private messages over FaceBook all the way through this artwork and never protested or dodged any of the naive and sometimes complex questions I fired at her, thank you xxx

Where I didn't have room to use my finger to smear the colour such as in the angles of sea wall and jetty, Katie suggested using cotton buds and that worked a treat. So now I had some quite vivid stripes of colour which looked rather startling. I had to tone them down and then make it appear as though they were reflections on water. I toned them down by scraping vertically downwards with a palette knife which took off quite a bit of pigment, smoothed out any lumps and gave me a fresh working surface to work on the water - as it were. This was achieved using three shades of grey, a silver-blue, a mid and a dark grey to create both short horizontal lines and random wavy lines but only straying from the horizontal a little. The dark grey was used to darken areas of deeper water away from the sea wall. Some white was added to suggest spray or eddies of water around the boats and the sea wall.

I started this as an experiment and never expected to end up with something like this. I'm every bit as flabbergasted as anyone else has professed to be. But quite pleased... My son-in-law has brought me a couple of sets of oil paints and brushes. Miss Franny is looking at the conservatory floor and looking pensive...

Monday, 27 February 2017

2017 Reading, Part One

The first six books of the year have made it past my discerning gaze. Let's take a look...

I've read a few of Terry Pratchett's books in the Discworld series that are based around the City Watch and I saw this one going free on a charity stall in one of the craft fairs that Fran and Gill do in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. I snapped it up and the next day donated in return the first ten books from the Robert Jordan series The Wheel of Time. I'd read and enjoyed the series a couple of times but as with all long-running serials it had got very sprawling in concept and there were too many characters to keep track of and I had decided I wasn't putting myself through it again.

Anyway, this is an excellent addition to the City Watch series-within-a-series as Watch Commander Sam Vines finds himself tricked and sent back through time, to arrive at the death scene of the man who had taught him all he knew and his nervous and untrained younger self pointing a crossbow at his head... Enough of the spoilers! The cover, by the way, is based on the famous painting Night Watch painted in 1642 by Rembrandt and displayed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The Deathlands series contains a lot of books! The official James Axler website lists 125 books in the series but unlike other long-running series, this kept a tight group of main characters and they interacted with new characters in a different location for each book. Published by Arrow Books, these are not the easiest of books to come across in the UK. I've got a few and have read more but all have either come from libraries or been bought second-hand. This is the first book in the chronology of the series, but was written some thirteen years or so after the first to be written. The series centres around Ryan Cawdor and his band of travellers in a dangerous dystopian future set 100 years after a nuclear holocaust. Wherever they travel they face a society disintegrated into territories ruled by violent barons, mistrustful of strangers and covetous of the possessions of the travellers. Weapons, food and petrol are all commodities for which men would kill. Mutated creatures - none of which have been made more timid or small - present other threats to the band. With some futuristic technology thrown in here and there and even a bit of time travel the books are good entertainment.

James Axler never actually existed. It is a pen name and the books have been written by a number of authors, drawing on a huge database of facts and histories of the environment and the main characters.

And back to our friend Matthew Bartholomew, the 13th century scholar-physician at Cambridge University. His is never a quiet life and so it continues in the fifteenth of his adventures. When the College Treasurer dies it becomes apparent that money has been paid for goods which have not been received. Meanwhile a pregnant woman visiting Matt's sister dies from an overdose of pennyroyal, a substance beneficial for some ailments but known to induce miscarriages. Matt discovers his own stock of the drug has been stolen. He also discovers that the missing money was paid to the husband of the pregnant lady and he, Brother Michael and some students set out on a journey, becoming embroiled in plots and counter-plots and finding themselves hunted by killers.

Blimey! Time for some light relief! Tom Holt takes us to Fairyland where time doesn't work in quite the same way when the elves remove all the boring bits from your memory. A bit embarrassing if you think you are still 15 and insist on being taken back to your school only to find an unknown headmaster demanding to know what the 30-something you is doing in one of his classrooms...

Whoa! Hang on... Terry Pratchett again? Well, although I usually try to vary my reading within these groups of six books, this time I found myself in the local library whilst Miss Franny was looking for stories of young put-upon women triumphing against outrageous cads and they had this. One of my uncles has been telling me for ages that this was a great book and I should read it, so it came home with me. Then I realised that I wasn't going to get through another two books and still have time to read this in the three weeks before it was due back. So... Anyway, it is excellent. I'd seen and loved the TV two-parter but the book (as books always do) contains far more.

And to finish let's go way back to the days of American gangsters and private eyes with Mickey Spillane's hero Mike Hammer. I, The Jury was the first Mike Hammer book and it's a cracker of a read. Fast-paced, exciting, full of cold killers, hot guns and even hotter women. This was the first of three books in an omnibus I got from a bargain book shop ages ago. I'll bet it's not ages until I get round to the second book!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Film Review, March 1979 Issue

It's a while since we had a virtual visit to the cinema so follow me now into the dark...

For those of you with long memories, I've been delving into my collection of Film Review magazines ranging from 1977 to 1980. We are now reaching March 1979. The Deer Hunter is the big feature film on the front cover and we'll take a further look at that and the film version of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as we leaf through the magazine.

There's a trip to the jewellers on the inside front cover, for those who like to use their local cinema as a place to get to know someone a little better!

Brooke Shields at the tender age of 13 has made her film debut in a story that has caused the British Board of Film Censors a slight headache...

British heart throb Ian McShane has been in the south of France, filming Sewers of Gold (er... eeeew!) Here a few of the locals are pleased to meet him. The feeling is probably mutual, he doesn't look too unhappy does he?

In most issues of the magazine we are introduced to a new actress hopeful, about to debut in a film. In this case it's the lovely 23-year-old French actress, Catherine Alric who sadly was unable to find any clothes for a photo. We'll just have to make do... The film was called Dear Inspector. No... me neither...

The Deer Hunter was featured on the front cover and gets a colour two-page spread within the magazine. John Savage's character Steve is forced to play Russian Roulette in a Vietnam prison camp, the harrowing experience having permanent consequences.

"Oh, you must be able to see right through me!" flirts Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) as she interviews Christopher Reeve's Superman.

Jose Ferrer takes over from James Mason to play Captain Nemo, riding the sea turtles on his quest to find Dory. ...oh... wait a minute... Meanwhile some artist paints actor Burgess Meredith but manages to come up with a version of Harrison Ford from 40 years in the future!

Farrah Fawcett-Majors, then enjoying her status of the world's favourite glamorous star, collapses of exhaustion in Acapulco whilst filming her new film Sunburn. Or was that collapses with sunburn whist making Exhaustion? Whatever, she'll be ok after an enforced bed rest.

Not to be outdone, Robert Wagner well, not so much collapses, but falls off a garden swing much to the amusement of Natalie Wood. The rest of the interview was done from the safety of an armchair.

The centre spread for this issue contains three photographs from a film treatment of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Starring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and Sandy Farina and with lots of famous faces in both featured roles and cameo appearances drawn from both the world of popular music and film. Where else in a single film could you see Aerosmith, Earth Wind and Fire, Helen Reddy, Alice Cooper, Paul Nicholas, Tina Turner, Carol Channing, Barry Humphries, Keith Carradine, Donald Pleasance, George Burns and Frankie Howerd?

We saw Brooke Shields earlier in this issue and she is interviewed over two pages by regular columnist Barbra Paskin, covering both the controversial Pretty Baby in which Brooke's character is auctioned off (hence the Censor's dilemma) and a western, Wanda Nevada in which she plays the title role, co-starring with Peter Fonda.

The antichrist makes a return in Damien - Omen II and creates more death and mayhem for people around him. In a battle to the death between a crow and Elizabeth Shepherd's journalist, I fear the bird is not going to be the loser...

The late David Bowie and Kim Novak dance in a scene from Just a Gigolo set in 1920s Berlin.

As we near the back pages of the magazine we are given a round-up of films "Going The Rounds" i.e. currently on release. Amongst them is The First Great Train Robbery an enjoyable caper movie that is still fun to watch today.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

World War One Era Autograph Book

Yesterday we had a motor up to Hornby, north Lancashire to a book fair that was being held in the Hornby Institute. A lovely place Hornby, I'm going to have to go back in summer with the camera I think! Small village, old buildings, tea rooms, and a bridge over the River Lune at the side of which is a small weir.

Anyway I didn't buy any books but we enjoyed a good rummage round. I didn't come away empty handed though...

This autograph book was lying on one of the stalls and I had a quick flick through it, noting that the vast majority of pages remained untroubled by ink. But of the ones that had been used there was a mix of signatures, old photographs pasted in or shoved between pages, many of them fragments of a group, some poetry, humour and pencil sketches.

This charming little cartoon was on the first page. Signed J.H. it is entitled Mischief. Whether that's the cat's name or just a description of what it's up to I'm not sure!

A group photo gummed onto a page. There's no names or date I'm afraid but leafing through the book shows that dated entries fall between 1915 and 1919. This book was carried through the First World War. Possibly into war, for as we shall see in articles to come, some have a distinctly military flavour.

The facing page has a small photograph and the signature of ... well the bits I can make out... Percy M Knowles(?) Perhaps Lieutenant Colonel(?) or is the second line Pvt CC (or CE)?

A closer and edited version of the photograph of a party enjoying a walk in the woods.

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