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Review: Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue – Hélène Cardona

Life in Suspension cover image web
Published by Salmon Poetry

By Guy Sangster-Adams

Extraordinarily, magically, poignantly, I could have sworn just as I finished reading Hélène Cardona’s latest poetry collection and was switching on my laptop to write this review that I could faintly hear a lone piper playing Flowers of the Forest. Highly unusual in a house on the southern coast of England close on 500 miles from Edinburgh. As I threw open the windows with a clear view of Cap Gris Nez on the French coast 20 miles away the music grew louder. The air was suffused with the 500 year old air lamenting the Scottish fallen at the Battle of Flodden, the crash of the waves and the wind in the trees on the cliffside. I could see no piper but highly appropriately in my reverie post reading Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue as I looked out to sea the music pulled tight on the Celtic thread of my ancestry.

‘Highly appropriately’, because through the poems in the collection Cardona explores life after loss, particularly the loss of one’s mother, when one feels as though one has gone into suspended animation between the past and the future. How one can feel lost in the heartbroken void of the present, but also how one can slowly become receptive again to the the threads of memories and not only pull them tight but also wrap them around the lines stretching back through one’s parents and through the generations of one’s family. As she writes in the poem, In Search for Benevolent Immortality:

‘I hear beyond the range of sound
the ineffable, the sublime, my mother’s
breath, grandmother’s smile, ancestors’
voices, to soothe and heal the sorrow.’

HeleneCardonaGS-Photo-by-Marta-Vassilakis2 web

Hélène Cardona photographed by Marta Vassilakis

Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is a bilingual collection. Cardona wrote each poem first in English and then in French, linguistically reflecting the fact that she was born in France and now lives in the USA. But a life in suspension for Cardona is a life suspended between many different languages and lands, cherished memories and experiences in a variety of different tongues, and the ancestral voices she hears are as multi-lingual as she is: she speaks English, French, Spanish, German, Greek and Italian fluently. Her mother, Kitty, was Greek, her father, Jose Manuel Cardona, is a Spanish poet, and her formative years were spent all across Europe, in addition to time in the USA.

As an acclaimed and accomplished poet, actor (her credits include: Chocolat, Mumford,The 100 Foot Journey, Heroes Reborn), and literary translator, language and literature are her lifeblood and passion and she is as beautifully deft with the words of others as she with her own. As she compounds in the first verse of the collection’s titular poem, in which she beautifully and evocatively encapsulates her poetic voice and muse:

‘Let me introduce myself.
I’m the Memory Collector, your companion, and spirit guide.
Let’s unwind the clock, peel the past.
The reflections you give me, conjure, surrender from within,
I throw into the fire, the cauldron of resolutions.
They burn into embers and flickers that evolve into butterflies.
They flutter away, heal and free you of all chains
So they can revisit and reinvent who you are.
Let the dance begin.’

Helene-Cardona web

The dance, ‘a dance to the music of time’ to borrow from Nicholas Poussin/Anthony Powell, in Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is in four parts. For me, the poems in the first part explore the loss of a mother, how life becomes a frozen present – there is no future, only a past one is desperate to remember, to remain in; ‘a cloister of shadows loved’ as Cardona writes in Twisting the Moon. Whilst in the second they reflect on how the love of another can help one heal, allow one to continue, as she writes in Eagle, ‘On the wall of time to come / a window appears’.

As a teenager Cardona spent time in Wales, and later in Ireland, and the collection and, for me, particularly the poems in the third part take inspiration from Celtic legend, from Ceridwen, a mother, an enchantress, and the Celtic goddess of rebirth, transformation, of whom Medieval Welsh poetry speaks of having possessed the cauldron of poetic inspiration. The poems in this section explore transformation, metamorphosis, and the natural world to reflect on the changes in oneself bereavement brings, the natural cycle, and also that in searching for one’s mother after losing her, and wondering how one can ‘find’ her again, there is the realisation that she is in everything, throughout the beauty of nature. The final part is contemplative of one’s own place in ‘the dance’; the past is gone, but lives on within the child, what are the ways in which we are reborn, and how do we face our own end. As Cardona writes in Between Klimt and Giacometi, ‘Every wall is a beginning’.

To end with the three words with which this review began the beautifully realised Life in Suspension / La Vie Suspendue is extraordinary, magical, and poignant.

Hélène Cardona: helenecardona.com

Salmon Poetry: salmonpoetry.com

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Review: Parisian Chic City Guide – Ines de la Fressange with Sophie Gachet

Parisian Chic City Guide Cover for P-TCP

(Flammarion) £12.95
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
“You can never have enough notebooks,” writes Ines de la Fressange, in her latest book, Parisian Chic City Guide, which is indeed beautifully styled as a notebook, including blank pages for the reader’s own notes and an inner pocket to collect whatever catches one’s magpie eye: tickets, tags, fabric samples, business cards, or precious notes on scraps of paper. “I contracted a notebook fixation,” she continues in her entry for her favourite source for her cahier fix, Dubois, in the Latin Quarter, “and hoard them as if a catastrophic stationary shortage was imminent”.

ParisianChicCityGuide Ines de la Fressange © Alessandra d UrsoFlammarion 2015 for P-TCP

Ines de la Fressange ©Alessandra d’Urso/Flammarion 2015

A perfect pocket companion to the best-selling, Parisian Chic Style Guide, and once again co-written with Elle fashion journalist, Sophie Gachet, the book is wonderfully multi-layered in that it is an exquisite, informative guide to the city, in which de la Fressange divulges her secret sources and her new favourite places to shop, eat, hang out, and more, but also it is written with such an engaging and readable, wit, wisdom, and joie de vivre that it is by turns a fascinating travelogue, an enchanting diary, and a love letter to Paris.

ParisianChicCityGuide_3DFR_pp130-131 map for P-TCP

©Taride, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015).

The book is bound with a tricolour bracelet, keeping the contents safe, a bracelet that wouldn’t look out of place at A.B.P. Concept – The Atelier Bracelet Paris boutique, in the 1st arrondissement which specialises in watchbands – “a good and affordable NATO nylon military wristband (only 20€!) paired with any watch will perform honourably in the service of fashion”- and is an Enterprise du Patrimoine Vivant, which is, “the French distinction of a ‘living heritage’ business,” de la Fressagne explains and adds, “That’s so Parisian!”.

pp94-95 Le Petit Souk and Lat Tarte Tropezianne Parisan Chic City Guide for P-TCP

©Le Petit Souk and ©La Tarte Tropézienne from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015).

Just along the rue du Marché-Saint-Honoré from A.B.P. is Styl’Honoré – a stylo or pen specialist – where, de la Fressange delightfully reveals, “you’ll find one of the last Parisian craftsmen who knows how to cut a quill pen” and the ‘Say it like La Parisienne’ (a style declaration with each entry in the book) declares: “In an era of e-mails, a handwritten letter is the sign of a rebellious spirit”.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112 Ines de la Fressange shop front for P-TCP

Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Described by L’Oréal, for whom she is a brand ambassador, as “The Eternal Parisienne” and “the epitome of French style”, de la Fressange is descended from one of France’s oldest aristocratic families. She began modelling in the 1980s, at the age of 17, on the runways of iconic fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Christian Lacroix, and then became Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, and at his request, in 1983, the face of Chanel and global ambassador for the brand, for prêt-à-porter, accessories and perfume. In 1989 she was chosen as the model for Marianne, the national symbol of France. Whilst continuing to model she is also now an highly regarded creative, designer, journalist, writer and business woman. She is creative consultant for Roger Vivier, designs a line for Uniqlo, and this year relaunched her luxury lifestyle brand, Ines de la Fressange Paris.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112bottomright interior Ines de la Fressange for P-TCP

Interior of Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Her flagship store in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is included in the book, of which she writes, “think of it as a cross between a fantasy department store and a sundries emporium”. It stocks both her brand and items from other designers and makers which she’s sourced in an eclectic range spanning clothes, jewellery, stationery, home  décor items through to brooms and olive oil.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112centerleft Ines de la Fressange interior for P-TCP

Interior Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Divided into five sections, The Heart of Paris, That Marais State, The Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain-des-Prés Style, Chic near the Champs-Élysées, and The Bobo Attitude, covering 12 arrondissements, with maps for each area, the entries range from luxury brands and high-end stores to fantastic finds where one can discover the highest quality at low prices. Including fashion designers, stationers, florists and hairstylists, cafés, hotels, home décor and toy shops, and the wonderfully named, Musée de la Vie Romantique.

ParisianChicCityGuide_3Dpocket for P-TCP
From the legendary Colette and the fabulous timeless lingerie of Fifi Chachnil in the 1st arrondissement, to the evocatively named, Carouche: Interprète d’Objets in the 11th arrondissement– as de la Fressange writes, “anyone who calls herself ‘an interpreter of objects’ deserves our attention”, and then to La Tarte Tropézianne in the 6th arrondissement, the patisserie from which Parisians can now buy the cream-filled brioche which for years was only available in St Tropez… the ‘Say it like La Parisienne’ note wryly appends: “they say pâtissier Alexandre Micka named this confection after Brigitte Bardot. Remember Roger Vadim’s film And God Created Pastry?” Parisian Chic City Guide is a treasure trove journey through the myriad elements of what it is to be truly chic in la Parisienne mode.

Ines de la Fressange Paris
inesdelafressange.fr
Flammarion
editions.flammarion.com

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Music Review: Be Bold – Rosie Bans

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EP on release
Available as a free download from iTunes, Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify, or direct from Rosie Bans: http://www.rosiebans.com/

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

How coy that old phrase, ‘to tinkle the ivories’, sounds and how curiously uninvolved with their instrument it makes the player sound, inapposite to the extreme when it comes to the piano pop-punk music of singer-songwriter, Rosie Bans. Live was my first introduction and I was immediately bowled over by the passion, erudition, and power of her words and singing, music and playing, transfixed by the intimate interconnectedness of her and her piano. The keys seemingly rising to meet her touch, allowing her to seamlessly juxtapose and mix supposedly contradictory musical styles, to follow her through sonic experimentation, to allow her to pause in a moment of silence, but never to lose the audience’s captivation.

Coyness equally has no quarter, as its title attests, on her fourth EP, Be Bold. Each of the four tracks is a call to arms to not run scared and to not run out of hope. However much of the former and however little of the latter one might feel. Each of the four tracks also captivates me in just the same way as that first live show did. In my mind’s eye the surfable waves along the keyboard that her songs create achieve such a tidal surge that the keys break free from their bed, leave the speakers, and wrap themselves around me. Sometimes they are pale ivory fingers caressing, sometimes slapping, sometimes they are teeth grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, and occasionally they draw blood. For coyness has no quarter on Be Bold either in theme or medium.

Immediately reinforced by the EP’s opener, Arguments, which opens with the raw punchy power of Stooges-esque electric guitar, the stabbing chords reappearing throughout the track, mixed with jabbed keys, counterpoised with soft, dinner jazz piano, which adroitly highlight Bans’ two distinct vocal styles in the track, the two sides to an argument, the calm, moral high ground of one lighting the blue touch paper of the rasped other: “well I’m not tired, and I want to cry!”. Arguments (as is the EP as a whole), is a wonderful showcase for Bans’ bold and dramatic experimentation with fusing a variety of styles and syncopation in each of her songs. That these experiments prove so successful compound the fact that Be Bold is also a wonderful showcase for Bans’ supreme talent.

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Arguments can end in repercussions and Arguments ends in a welter of feedback, but into that plays a beautiful melodious refrain. Hopefully a moment of calm after the storm, but also perhaps a whisper of Some Candy Talking of Bans’ Glaswegian musical forbears, The Jesus and Mary Chain. She was born in the city to a Scottish mother and Scottish/Indian father and was encouraged in music from an early age. She has, she says, been guided by “an army of strong female figures […] throughout her teenage and young adult life”, and specifically cites Stevie Nicks and Gloria Gaynor as having influenced her vocally, and Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, and Tori Amos as her song-writing influences.

Having cast off into that swirl of influences, it’s beyond temptation to say that the EP’s second track, Make Believe, has a wonderful feel of Carole King about it, and intertwined echoes of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind and Alicia Keyes’ (/Jay Z’s) Empire State of Mind. But Make Believe is pure and simple – and clever and fabulous come to that – Rosie Bans! In that the phenomenally catchy, whistle all through the working day, tune both belies the lyrics and also characterises the façade they portray in relating a relationship that may look perfect on the surface, but is bereft below it: “So go on, paint me a picture, tell me a story, make believe, make believe, that there’s a you and me”. State of the union state of mind.

The phenomenally affecting third track, Bold Light, projects the childhood nursery rhyme fear of losing one’s way home into the terrifying reality of losing one’s sense of home, of having that sense beaten and broken out of one. Rhythmically, especially the chorus, the song has a feel of playground skipping chant, and there is a childlike facet musically, as though parts are played on a toy piano, which heighten the lyrical power – as does the soft vulnerability of Bans’ singing – which is far removed from the games of children. “I took as much as I could take,” sings Bans, and later, “you pushed too hard on my heart”. The ‘games’, such as they are lyrically expressed, are far more akin to Master and Servant, and fittingly in both the song’s rhythm and the other musical component of extraterrestrial chimes there are intriguing echoes of Depeche Mode.

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Those extraterrestrial chimes serve the song wonderfully well, aiding and abetting its effectiveness and affectivity, highlighting both the narrator’s feeling of being completely adrift from the world and also her celestial entreaty to be shown a direction home.

Home is also at the heart of the closing track on Be Bold, Westbound Ghosts. But where Bold Light is journeying in search of a home, Westbound Ghosts is the clearer emotional understanding of what home means to one that one often gains whilst travelling. Not least whilst travelling on trains (and not least whilst travelling on trains between London and Scotland, or vice versa), as one’s thoughts unfold across the passing landscapes and then flood back to one as inspiration, answers, new plans, or just a sense of calm or a refreshed sense of purpose. But being Bans there is a wonderful Noirish twist to this tale, in that the song’s narrator’s sense of home is only fixed as long as she is on the fixed railway lines of the East Coast… it might all change if she went back to the West Coast, or if she paid heed to the other female voice in the song – be that mother, sister, friend, or, indeed, another side of herself.

One thing about being bold is that once one begins one shouldn’t falter, and the wonderful thing about Be Bold is that it never falters – each of its four tracks is exceptional. I don’t know whether it takes boldness to download a free download of such excellent songs, but if it does then I urge you to be bold, because you will be well and truly bowled over by Be Bold.

ROSIE BANS LIVE DATES:

FAMOUS TIMES LIVE

ROSIE BANS, MIKE NISBET (click here to read P-TCP’s review of Mike Nisbet’s album, Vagrant), and GUY SANGSTER ADAMS will all be performing at Famous Times Live on 4th May 2014.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/famoustimeslive?ref=br_tf

WORKING OUT OF TOWN TOUR

ROSIE BANS alongside MIKE NISBET and ANNA MacDONALD will be playing live across the UK during May and June 2014 on their Working out of Town tour.
For more information: http://www.rosiebans.com/

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Music Review: Vagrant – Mike Nisbet

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Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

A few tracks in I suddenly realised I had been holding my breath on my first listen to Mike Nisbet’s debut album, Vagrant. Holding my breath, hoping against hope, that as each song played and I liked it as much and more than the previous one that every song on the album would be a winner. And that is how it was, and how it is. But also, having allowed myself to breathe somewhere around track three, at the end of that first listen I found that the album as a whole has a wonderfully transcendent quality. Listening to Vagrant in its entirety I felt as though I had travelled widely with the songs, seen people and places that had changed my mind and my mood, but returned to where I was sitting feeling far calmer, more relaxed, and hopeful.

Travelling allied to a sense of rootlessness, as the title suggests, is central to Vagrant as Nisbet wrote the album’s ten tracks having spent a peripatetic year living between London and Glasgow. Vagrant was then recorded in Glasgow’s Diving Bell Lounge by Marcus Mackay (whose credits also include Snow Patrol, Frightened Rabbit, Sparrow & the Workshop). The songs draw influence not only from his experiences and emotions on the road between the two cities, but also from the traditional folk music of both Scotland and England, and further afield from Americana. His intention for the sound and feel of the album was that it should be intimate, “one man playing directly to the listener” utilizing primarily simple acoustic guitar and percussion.

Intriguingly given the above the word that continually comes to mind when listening to Vagrant is, majestic. In no small part this is due to the fantastic sonority of Nisbet’s voice. It is imbued with his Caledonian heritage – he was born in the town of Oban to the north west of Glasgow – fused with both the steel of Clydebuilt and the drama and rich hues of the Highlands. Whilst also being etched with the hardness of the road, but suffused with the wisdom that hope is still alive around every corner. It’s a voice of history that belies the fact that Nisbet is in his twenties. It’s a voice that one wants to travel with.

Mike Nisbet

Mike Nisbet

This majesty is very much to the fore on my favourite song on Vagrant (favourite amongst favourites), Snow Me In. This epic song, which even though knowing it to be a new song one feels sure must be a standard as soon as one hears it, is the only track on the album to feature Nisbet on piano rather than guitar. A beautiful maelstrom it evokes and holds its own vocally, musically and atmospherically with Elvis’ In the Ghetto, and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and He Wants You.

Other echoes that come to mind whilst listening to Vagrant are Nick Drake, particularly the album, Five Leaves Left, John Martyn’s album, Solid Air, and Tim Hardin. Other reviewers have made references to Bob Dylan. For me, listening to Vagrant, interestingly if I was put in mind of Dylan at all it was of Time Out Of Mind. Interestingly because that was Dylan’s 30th studio album and he was 56 when he recorded it. Over twice the age Nisbet was when he recorded Vagrant, which perhaps compounds Nisbet’s seemingly inherent time out of mind-ness that runs counter to his age. As a sidebar there is another link as Time Out Of Mind featured Dylan’s 16-minute paean to Scotland, Highlands.

But really the beauty of Vagrant is that it stands alone and is a very good album in its own right. It is passionate, poetical, and compelling, with a travelling, or sometimes, tidal rhythm that propels one from track to track. Rather like the train window reverie that happens on a long journey that takes one at speed both through industrial cities and the most beautiful rural landscapes influencing the thoughts that occur and alight, Vagrant is a glorious soundtrack of both memory and dreams, of loves lost and loves still to come, of melancholy but also of hope. A hope, that is like the never quite darkening glow in the sky to the north of Glasgow’s streets. It is the possibility of the journey, that one doesn’t arrive exactly the same as one sets out. Even if far from home, or looking for a place to call home, after listening to Vagrant one is ready to face the road again, or if listening en route to keep going forward.

Mustered 8 flyer

MIKE NISBET will be playing live, including songs from Vagrant, at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Mike Nisbet:
http://mikenisbet.com/

Mike Nisbet is playing live dates across the UK during October 2013. Please check his website for details

Buy Vagrant from:
http://mikenisbet.bandcamp.com/

Book Review: They Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French by Piu Marie Eatwell

piu-marie-eatwell-they-eat-horses-dont-they-cover-for-p-tcp-webzine-review

(Head of Zeus) HB £15.99 eBook £7.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

I was very struck by the opening lines of Piu Marie Eatwell’s prologue in which she writes of what had been intended as a weekend break in Paris but which has now extended for over ten years living in France, meeting and marrying her husband, working, and raising her three children there. She writes, “It was on a sunny August bank holiday that I checked into a hotel in the Latin Quarter […] I never did get to stay in that hotel (spending that whole first weekend with my future husband).”

Inherent in those lines, for me, was what I have always found about Paris that it is both everything I expect it to be and nothing that I expect it to be (as I imagine French visitors to/residents of London equally find). Eatwell doesn’t elucidate further about that weekend, but reading it one does imagine that in the lead up to going away the Left Bank hotel was a central tenet in the dream of an idealised, romantic, cinematically perfect Parisian weekend… but in reality it became purely a left luggage locker, as she met the man she would later marry elsewhere in the city. Although, of course, meeting your future husband on a weekend break in Paris does rather compound the perception of Paris as the most romantic city on earth.

As a student at Université Paris IV, despite it being the 2000s not the 1940s/50s, my friends at home in Britain envisaged that my time would be spent clad in a black roll neck striking existential poses in Left Bank cafés that had long been artistic and intellectual hang-outs. Whilst it’s true that pre- and post- lectures I would go for coffee a lot with French student friends in Saint-Germain-des-Prés the favoured rendezvous was Starbucks in Odéon… which isn’t to say the conversations weren’t as erudite or that there wasn’t just as much people watching.

As Eatwell writes, “one can still check out Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore, if forking out a fortune for a continental breakfast is not an issue. But don’t expect to find a philosopher sitting next to you if you do.” This is in the section of the book in which she explores the reality of Myths about Paris, in this case that, ‘The Left Bank is a haven of writers and intellectuals’. The book as whole explores 45 preconceptions about France that are widely held in Britain and also to a degree in the USA.

Ranging from the titular and of the moment ‘They eat horses, don’t they?’ to myths about French women: being the most stylish in the world/not getting fat/not shaving, from ‘The French are obsessed with sex’ and that their children don’t throw food, through to ‘The French are a nation of cheese-eating surrender mokeys’, ‘Paris is the European capital of canine excreta’, and ‘The Paris Métro stinks’.

In each case Eatwell, who trained as a barrister and worked in chambers in London, before working for international law firms in London and Paris, explores the background and evidence for each cultural claim and then gives a verdict on each as to whether they are straightforwardly true or false, or somewhere contradictorily between the two, or equally whether they were once true but no longer are. Her ruling on the veracity is then carried at the end of each entry in a caption next to a Myth Evaluation logo. This is a fun device and often brings extra illumination.

Piu Marie Eatwell

Piu Marie Eatwell

I particularly liked her Myth Evaluation to ‘The Paris Métro stinks: “True: The Parisian Métro still smells most peculiar, although garlic and Gitanes have now been replaced by unusual chemical odours. However, for complex socio-cultural reasons comprehensible only to Left Bank intellectuals and Deconstructionist philosophers, the unique and irrepressible odour of the Paris Métro is not noxious, but apparently – in anthropological terms – a nexus of urban experiences encompassing alienation, excitement, repulsion, danger”.

The book is as thoroughly engaging as it is wonderfully well researched. Eatwell has drawn on a wealth of sources including books, periodicals, company and governmental surveys, statistics, reports, films and music, interviewing/statement taking from almost everyone she spoke to, be they English or French, and also her own observations and experience garnered from living in France for over a decade. Writing with wit, erudition, insight, and a lightness of touch (I am trying to ignore the part of my brain that is insisting on making a soufflé allusion here) They Eat Horses, Don’t They? is highly readable and personable whilst also being a fascinating, immaculately considered and referenced discourse on its theme.

In considering her findings at the end of the book, Eatwell who was born in Calcutta but raised in Britain, and studied at Oxford University, explains that although writing the book taught her a great deal more about France and the French it also “taught me even more about myself – or rather, I should say, about us, the Anglo-Saxons” and also that the relationship between Britain and France has always been very different to Britain’s relationship with any other country. “Underlying all these myths we construct about France,” she writes, “there lies a romantic and indefinable yearning… a sense of emulation, jealousy and desire”.

Her idea chimes with a very similar thought that had struck me when I was again studying outside Britain, this time in Finland (underscoring the Herderian idea of gaining insights into one’s nationality when abroad) – although I would suggest that the feelings she describes go both ways across the Channel.

One morning in the student accommodation kitchen I glanced across at the television – the sound was muted but the news was showing then French President, Jacques Chirac, and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, arriving at the unveiling of the Airbus A380, in France. Both leaders made their way along the front row of seats from opposite ends, warmly greeting everyone they passed along the way but studiously not making eye contact with each other. When they arrived at their seats, next to each other in the centre, they made a great play of not greeting each other, other than a fleeting ‘covert’ glance, and then sat down taking great pains to do so at oblique angles to each other. This was representative of diplomatic bad feeling at the time, but what hit me watching the images without commentary was how extraordinarily coquettish it looked.

As though Britain and France are the archetypal boy and girl in the playground hitting each other, when in fact they want to kiss each other, making up and spreading bad stories about each other in the fear that someone might realise their true feelings.

Reading They Eat Horses, Don’t They? provides a fascinating insight into this love/hate affair that has played out across the Channel and across the centuries, and I heartily recommend the book.

Mustered 8 flyer

PIU MARIE EATWELL will be talking about They Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French (Head of Zeus, 2013), and exploring some of the myths and stereotypes that colour Britain’s relationship with France, at the Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Piu Marie Eatwell
Twitter: @PiuEatwell https://twitter.com/PiuEatwell
Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/They-Eat-Horses-Dont-They-The-Truth-about-the-French/333787346720994

Head of Zeus
http://headofzeus.com/

Book Review: Diamond Street – The Hidden World of Hatton Garden by Rachel Lichtenstein

diamond-street-paperback-cover-webzine

(Hamish Hamilton) Hardback £20.00, Paperback £9.99, ebook £5.99
Diamond Street App free to download from iTunes or Google Play

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One does not need a jeweller’s loupe to appreciate the multi-faceted beauty of Rachel Lichtenstein’s Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden. That said, because it flows with the highly engaging pace of a novel, and often the excitement of a thriller, despite being non-fiction, and one becomes so gripped by Lichtenstein’s journey that one starts to read and reaches the end before one wishes, it is a book that one immediately wants to go back through, to hold up to the light to examine in close detail the interplay of a wonderful spectrum of people and places and the stories they convey.

The book was more than five years in the making, in terms of both Lichtenstein’s research and writing, but in familial terms it has been three generations in the making because as a student she worked in her parent’s jewellery shop in Hatton Garden, which her husband now runs, and her uncles and aunts, and her grandfather all worked in the London street that is internationally renowned as the capital’s jewellery and diamond quarter and for many years was the centre of the world’s jewellery market.

Equally the stories and histories that Lichtenstein relays and uncovers have been many centuries in the making, for Diamond Street is not only a rare view through the closed doors of the inherently secretive and mysterious world of the diamond dealers, goldsmiths and jewellers on the street, but also a fascinating exploration through multiple layers of London history both in the street and its surrounding area from the life-size solid-gold sculpture of Kate Moss, to the lawlessness and the squalor of the alleyways and rookeries that inspired Dickens’ Oliver Twist, to the upmarket and highly desirable Georgian housing estate, from the mansion of Elizabeth I’s favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, the palace of the Bishops of Ely, and further back to the days when the nearby River Fleet, which is now contained within Bazalgette’s Victorian sewer, was a mighty London waterway, second only to the Thames.

Diamond Street begins with a quote from Virginia Woof’s essay, A Room of One’s Own. The essay has long been a favourite of mine, and I have always liked the passage within it in which Woolf leans against the walls of Newnham College, Cambridge, and the physical connection triggers a journey back through centuries of the town’s history in her imagination. The passage and the essay as a whole are vividly and accessibly told – as a reader one very much travels with her.

Likewise and more so in Diamond Street; Lichtenstein makes time travel easy and delightful, which is far from easy to do. She trained originally as a sculptor and through the course of Diamond Street she very cleverly gradually builds up the layers of history so that as one reads on the text, the history, and the people become a wonderfully tactile sculptural object in one’s imagination. Often, and highly successfully, this is achieved through her accounts of the separate walks she took around the area, along similar routes but each time with experts in different fields, from historians, to geologists, to visionaries, and ultimately with sewer flushers… as the book concludes with Lichtenstein underground, thigh deep in the sewage of the River Fleet.

Rachel Lichtenstein photographed by James Price

Rachel Lichtenstein photographed by James Price

The accessibility, readability, and enjoyableness of Diamond Street also stems from Lichtenstein weaving the story of her research methodology into the text. This brings the history alive, and also makes the reader feel a far greater connection to the people she meets and interviews, as though one is meeting them oneself.

So much so that one gets very caught up in her search for Isadore Mitziman (‘Mitzy’) an infamous Hatton Garden character, who Lichtenstein had bumped into by chance in 2004 whilst she was working on her last book, On Brick Lane, the first of her trilogy of London street books of which Diamond Street is the second. That day he told her many stories about Hatton Garden, and when she began working on Diamond Street she was desperate to track him down. As reader one becomes hooked on her search for him, almost thinking that one can see him at the end of the street, just out of Lichtenstein’s view, and one wants to enter the text and tell her!

Diamond Street in its printed form affords, as I say, the most wonderful mind’s eye travelling both in the present day and through time. But now, Lichtenstein has brought a whole new wonderful level to her Diamond Street project with the creation of the Diamond Street App, which is the first of its kind and uses content from the book in addition to specially developed rich media, soundscapes and interactive features. The App adds two new additions to journey one can take with Lichtenstein to Diamond Street, from the mind’s eye of the book, to either the visual, aural, and virtual, armchair travelling of the App, or if one is in Hatton Garden in actuality, a real guided tour via the App and its GPS system.

Whichever form you choose, and I would strongly recommend all three, Lichtenstein and Diamond Street are the perfect travelling companions.

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RACHEL LICHTENSTEIN will be celebrating the launch of The Diamond Street App and the publication of the paperback edition of Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden (Hamish Hamilton, 2013) at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Rachel Lichtenstein: http://www.rachellichtenstein.com/
Diamond Street App: http://www.diamondstreetapp.com
Hamish Hamilton: http://fivedials.com/

Music Review: In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility – Scant Regard

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Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

From a 1950s teenage Americana of high school hell cats, jet propelled hot rods, a rumble on the docks and riding the wild surf, to the men with no name in the Wild West of the late 1800s re-envisaged through filmic Italian eyes in the 1960s. From the impeccably elegant and achingly sexy Spy-fi representation of 1960s London, to a Brutalist trip to Newcastle with Michael Caine in the early 1970s, and onwards to the late 1970s/early 1980s and an electronica rendezvous in the industrial German city of Düsseldorf, before a train ride back across Europe to an England popping with a newly synthesised sound. With Scant Regard’s second album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, with a slide along the fretboard of his Teisco guitar, one embarks on an highly evocative, time-travelling journey through a collage of genres, an inspiring and exhilarating fusion that melds flash-backs with the present moment, to create a perfect resonance for today.

Scant Regard is the alias and solo project of Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist, writer, and producer, and the success of the hybrid Scant Regard sound, which he terms Spaghettilectro, is a testament to his explicit talents in all three of those creative disciplines. His stated intent for Spaghettilectro is that it “strives to fuse raw electronic beats and moods with the smooth, soaring sounds of [Ennio] Morricone’s biting guitar-scapes” which is then mixed up with “a little Link Wray style rock ‘n’ roll swagger”.

This is certainly carried into In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility’s opening track, and as such, perhaps, its statement of intent come cri de guerre, I Make no Bones. Which starts with an impelling rhythm of crackling, running boots feedback, dissolved by a swirling Link Wray riff, this is a street fighting track, punchy beats, fingernail string slides that sound like knives being sharpened, and power chord stabs. It brilliantly reinvents and transports the spirit of Wray’s highly influential 1958 track, Rumble (on which he first showcased his distortion and feedback techniques and which is cited as being the first track to use the power chord), to the metropolitan streets of the 2010s.

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

This is followed by Scant Regard’s fantastic, epic, VistaVision, cover version of Kraftwerk’s 1978/1981 single, The Model, which also, in its smoky down strokes and impelling locomotive rhythms, has echoes of Kraftwerk’s earlier single, Trans Europe Express. Coupled to which, Scant Regard has met Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the dining-car and returns a little Lust for Life and glances from Station to Station with flair and affection.

Intriguingly his cover is far less voyeuristic than the Kraftwerk original. The subject has turned the tables, and is far more of a femme fatale; from the glowering, pouting, intro, through the Spaghettilectro riffs, this is a soundtrack chosen by the model herself; rather than, “she’s a model and she’s looking good”, if Scant Regard’s instrumental had lyrics they would be, “I’m a model and I’m looking good”. Adding further layers to the story, there are also in the plaintive glissandi and the tremolo sustains echoes of Roy Budd’s theme tune to the 1971 British gangster film, Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine. This model has a backstory that for your own safety it may be a good idea not to delve to deeply into.

With the second cover version on the album, The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, Scant Regard also pulls off the very difficult feat of bringing brilliant new layers to a track that not only already had a great original but also a very successful cover version by Grace Jones. His wonderful reimagining of the song brings it very much into the modern moment, with the lyrics, which were based on JG Ballard’s controversial novel, Crash, about symphorophilia / car-crash sexual fetishism, seemingly intoned by an increasingly demented and aroused sat nav, as the track builds faster and faster through spiralling guitar and mesmerising beats, before ending abruptly in oblivion.

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Alongside these tracks, for me the other particularly stand out song on the album is the wonderful Misguided Missile, which whatever the intended target of its title very much hits the mark. It’s as though Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 has collided with The Tornado’s Telestar knocking it into an alternative orbit, or perhaps sending it on a slow fall to earth with a message of satellite love from the stars. The track tilts its hat to Joe Meek, and also carries the continuing echoes of Roy Budd’s Get Carter theme, and adds some Spy-fi elegance and thrills with a hint of Laurie Johnson’s theme to The Avengers television series. Throughout Misguided Missile Scant Regard skilfully manipulates a palette of emotions and tells a compelling short story in a variety of riffs, beats, and atmospherics.

This is true of the album as a whole. Although predominantly instrumentals, such is the richness of Scant Regard’s musical storytelling, and so myriad are the images and emotions that fill one’s head and one’s heart whilst listening to the album, that it’s a shock to realise that these fantastic short stories have been told without words. Upon listening to it you may well find that it already is, but I urge you to make In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility the soundtrack to your life.


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SCANT REGARD aka WILL CREWDSON will be playing a special set of Spaghettilectro, including songs from his new album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Scant Regard: http://www.scantregard.com

Music review: Not a dry eye in London – Alexander’s Festival Hall

not-a-dry-eye-in-london-alexanders-festival-hall-cover-website
(Melodical Trax) Album on release


Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One moment a green olive being seductively swirled around a perfectly mixed Martini, the next a revolving mirror ball lighting up the eyes of George Gershwin and Noël Coward in a louche 1920s nightclub, before spinning faster and faster through the decades to the bright lights of a late-1970s discothèque, the packed dance floor pulsating to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love. Not a dry eye in London, the debut album by Alexander’s Festival Hall, carries one into an entrancing and enchanting swirl around shifting orbits that then, almost implausibly but always immaculately, coalesce.

That this is so successful pays tribute to the many talents of Alexander Mayor, whose brainchild AFH is, as a singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. Mayor first came to prominence in the late 90s/early 00s as a member of electronic/synth pop trio, Baxendale, who were signed to the Cologne-based electronic and techno label, Kompakt. The German city continues to inspire Mayor’s work as the sound of Cologne’s nightclubs is another of Not a dry eye in London’s layers of influence.

The London life that the twelve tracks on the album celebrates is one that begins afresh each night as the theatre curtain rises full of hope for all that might unfold in the hours ahead, both onstage and backstage, across subterranean dance floors or atop moonlit rooftops, with chance meetings, surprising discoveries, and the possibilities that remain for as long as the clubs and bars are open and the music is still playing… but as dawn breaks, as Mayor sings on I don’t want to get crazy every night, which tells of being left heartbroken and alone when the house lights go on, ‘with morning dew they’re serving the sweetest tears of the town’.

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Mayor has such a poetic lyrical talent that without music all the songs on the album would make wonderful poems, but that would only give half the story, because many of the tracks are lyrically poignant, but are juxtaposed with music to dance to, or the catchiest uplifting melody, which creates a fascinating and very pleasing bitter-sweetness – an heartache one can dance to! Equally the songs are shot through with brilliantly observed wit and humour, not least in the fantastic first single from the album, the alternative paen to love, Upturned, and, I’m gonna get married, which features Piney Gir whose third album, The Yearling, Mayor produced.

I’m gonna get married is an electro-cowboy ballad, a conjunction that is highly evocative in its own right, but in the often wonderfully fantastical setting of Mayor’s dusk till dawn London, for me, with its very English clipped vocals counterpointed by Western rhythms, the song’s juxtapositions conjure up an image of a fully booted, fringed, and Stetson’d cowboy on horseback suddenly emerging out of the sunlight at daybreak on Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park, leading the Household Cavalry on their daily canter, and the early morning joggers witnessing the scene not batting an eyelid. By which I mean that although Mayor has mixed and mashed a myriad of styles and inspirations on Not a dry eye in London that one would never have imagined working so well together,  they do, seamlessly, inspiringly, and excitingly so!

ALEXANDER’S FESTIVAL HALL will be playing a special acoustic set of songs from Not a dry eye in London at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.5 on Thursday 25th April 2012 from 7.30pm in the upstairs acoustic room at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. For more details: www.theculturalpick.com/events


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Alexander’s Festival Hall: www.alexandersfestivalhall.org