Archives for the month of: January, 2012

If it’s Monday, 3Score Dance Company at the Pavilion Theatre, 10 – 1pm. Jason, dancer, choreographer and our rehearsal director, has enormous patience with us, clarity, and a good sense of humour. An hour’s warm-up and technique, then the more creative part, building on ideas, associations, memories. We’re working with a Maya Angelou poem, ‘Still I Rise’, and each of us has to interpret the words and meaning into movement. I incorporate facial expression, twists, bends… Then we partner another dancer. And we have to teach each other our moves, then partner another couple, and learn their sequences… Surprisingly, at my age, it’s not so much the body that has the problems, as the memory. It’s only too tempting to watch Jason’s fluid moves and copy them each time round, but that’s not how to do it. You have to internalise the moves, get them in your muscles.

Tuesday evening: Brighton Jazz Co-op, upstairs in the Open House. The great Mark Bassey is working us through the classic minor II-V-1 chord progression. Mark is a top jazz trombonist, but he’s passionate about teaching, too. He’s one of the best teachers I’ve come across: clear, patient, sympathetic and encouraging to the strugglers (me). I’m really ashamed to admit my lack of musical knowledge, even of my instrument, but he spends time with me in the break, filling in the blanks, with great good humour, when he could be at the bar with the others. Once again, the trick is to get this theory into your fingers – to access the flat 5th and the tri-tone substitution – without using your mind.

Two great teachers. But, as the joke says, you gotta practice.

Charles Shaar Murray, legendary music journalist, is in full flow, his reading gaining momentum, rattling along, building, unstoppable. But the content comes over loud and clear, too: how the blues is a healing force, a shared experience between performer and listener. He’s reading from his book about John Lee Hooker, Boogie Man. He’s describing the visceral power of Hooker’s grunts and moans over the stomping beat that transcends language, how hearing the bluesman’s despair touches that of the listener, connects, and uplifts, through.. the boogie! The ‘Black Dog’ whipped by a stinging guitar!

Charlie’s reading is really intense, a synthesis of content and form, and you know it’s reaching its climax… But now, an outburst of clapping from the back! One-man clapping, and a voice heckling. This is extraordinary – heckling a reading? and one that’s so gripping? All heads turn and see a smug-looking, carefully-long-haired middle-aged man, and angry voices are turned on him, not least Charlie’s. He sits there, pleased with himself – he’s broken the spell. Somehow, he remains unpunched.

Charlie recovers, finishes, goes out for a fag. When he returns, he straps on his golden National-style guitar, and hits the strings with a heavy brass slide, and you hear that classic blues sound: brass on steel on brass, slur, whine, crunch. Hunched into his leather jacket, he sings the story of cruel Staggerlee, and his love of Beer, Bourbon and Barbecues. And of the Blues.

In from the biting wind along Euston Road, up steps, bags searched, and into a stylish café at the Wellcome Collection. Apart from the café (‘Please relate your wi-fi usage to your intake of food and drink’ – to paraphrase the notice), here’s a bookshop, library, and permanent and temporary exhibitions. The museum aims to explore ‘ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art… The Wellcome Trust is the world’s largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health’. Great cakes, too.

Downstairs there are two exhibitions. ‘Charmed Life’ features charms and amulets from the Wellcome Collection, beautifully arranged in flowing shapes by artist Felicity Powell, and juxtaposed with her own wax artworks. From tiny wooden shoes to a nail-studded sheep’s heart, a vertebra carved with a face, animal teeth, lockets, stones, they bear witness to the significance of the object in people’s lives.

And here’s an exhibition of Mexican Miracle Paintings. If you were, say, falling to your death from a roof, or about to be shot, you might pray to the Virgen de Zapopan to save you, or to San Francisco de Asis, for instance. Then, if you survived, you would probably want to commission a small painting or ex-voto to dedicate to the Virgen or San Francisco in thanks. So here are walls full of these miraculous paintings, mostly on tin roof tiles, showing the disaster and the deliverer, and the carefully and often beautifully inscribed story.

Upstairs: the Collection – well, some of it. There are a number of prosthetic limbs, from earlier centuries, some exquisitely engineered, with independently movable joints and fingers. Here’s Disraeli’s death mask, a shrunken head, a whole mummified body from Peru, buried with ritual amulets; shelves of lovely glass flasks for various body functions; a shocking Chinese torture chair made almost entirely of edge-mounted sword blades, and Darwin’s walking canes. And this metal rhombus thing? The caption states simply: ‘Guillotine blade, French, 1792-1796’.

And what looks like a spiky jubilee clip with a small cycle clip inside? It’s a Victorian anti-masturbation device. Your Wellcome.

Standing rather nervously outside the Dome, I’m waiting for Duncan to pick me up. Destination: Twineham International Airport. Well, yes, an ironic name, for when we arrive and swing open the rusty gate, and drive around the edge of a muddy field – we find a shed. In which there stands a very pretty little plane – a single-engined high-wing monoplane, cream with burgundy stripes, and chunky spats over the wheels. Duncan unlocks the wire cage gates and we push it out. I really am feeling nervous – I’ve been up with him once in another plane, but this time…

After the pre-flight check (Duncan is reassuringly thorough – he has been for the 47 years I’ve known him) – we’re tightly side-by-side in the little cabin, and we’re soon taxi-ing towards the mown grass strip, then accelerating, and the plane is so light you’re barely conscious of leaving the ground, and we’re up, climbing up over West Sussex then circling round, and it’s really exhilarating and I’m not nervous anymore. But there is only a half-inch of metal between me and 1800 feet of cold air, and a small door-catch (easily caught on your cuff I’d imagine).

I’m trying to snatch photographs and little movie clips between the wing-struts (from inside – this isn’t Flying Down To Rio) and we’re suddenly over Lewes, and – look! there’s the Council office block! – and now we can see the full shape of Chris Drury’s Heart of Reeds, the land sculpture made in the shape of a cross-section through the human heart. We follow the Ouse down towards the sea, the sun is bursting through the clouds and shining on the river, ‘like a National guitar’, to quote Paul Simon. The clouds are piled up in layers coming from the west as we fly over Newhaven and on towards Cuckmere Haven. A glimpse of the Seven Sisters and we turn inland and the meanders and ox-bow lakes are beautiful, with exquisite tiny rivulets contrasting with the wide, dead-straight channel.

The huge storm-cloud is heading towards us, and Duncan decides to put down until it blows over. He radios for a convenient airfield, and here’s one, north of the A27. The owner is also in the air and we see his plane circling too. We land, easily, dancing onto the field, and switch the engine off. I walk away, and my feet slide out from under me, and I’m flat on my back, winded, in the mud, staring at the sky…