Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Review - A View From All Angles, Jan Lisiecki, #BristolProms

Yesterday a friend got in touch with regard to a spare ticket he had to one of the launch events of a series of "#BristolProms" season being hosted by the Old Vic. Inspired by Promenade concerts held in the historic theatre in the early 1800's, each performance also features a twist designed to open up the music to a wider audience - and to encourage to feel and experience it new or different ways.

It may seem odd to perform music in a theatre space, but the intimacy of the 18th century space was perfect for a Piano recital, allowing the audience to get closer to the internationally acclaimed Lisiecki than at many of his concerts. At only 18, he has already been performing for 9 years, has three albums under his belt and a globe-trotting schedule.

The performer was filmed from several angles and the footage was live-edited into a presentation on a screen behind him. This featured a range of black and white images of Lisiecki and his instrument - in stark contrast to the warmth of the wood of the piano or the splash of colour his socks provided - as well as a computer generated rendering of him.

This latter effect - which substituted Lisiecki's image with a grid of triangular cells - put me in mind of the images generated when motion capture technology is used in Cinema. At times, the grid was tighter and closer to the human form, at others it was more abstract. As the concert proceeded, more use was made of this - and in some of the more dramatic pieces the images seemed to crackle with the intensity of an electric storm.

At its best, the division between the performer and his piano dissolved, as the two became one and the music became all. That said, Lisieski was always in complete control and, as the music demanded, could switch from heavy, thumping chords to delicate melodies without missing a beat.

The programme was Bach's Partita No.1 - a suite originally written for Harpsichord - followed by two series of Chopin's √Čtudes (Op. 10 and Op. 25). Whilst the Bach was listened to and applauded politely the audience came alive for the Chopin and, having been instructed to clap as and when they wanted, greeted each study warmly. In so doing, they established a virtuous cycle as Lisieski put more of himself into each piece.

As well as the video screen, some pieces were accompanied by lasers but these distracted more than enhanced the experience. My feeling was that these could have been used to better effect had there been more of them more gainfully empolyed.
All in all, though, the experience was very enjoyable - and the concept of live-mixing a backing video and using computer generated effects is one that could benefit from being further experimented with. Always, though, with the proviso that the classics are classics for the reason - and the music, and musician, must remain the star.

Here is Lisiecki with one of the pieces from last night, Study 4 for from Chopin's √Čtudes Op. 10:


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sunday Sounds 75 - Marilyn

Earlier today, I watched "My Week With Marilyn" which tells the story of the filming of "The Prince and the Showgirl". Filmed at Pinewood, the Third Assistant Director on the production was Colin Clark (son of Kenneth Clark, and brother of Alan Clark) who wrote the memoir the film is based on.

So, inspired by that, here is Marilyn Monroe with "I Wanna Be Loved by You" from Some Like It Hot, which was the next film she made:


Saturday, 27 July 2013

My Letter to The Post (published)

Good things come to those who wait as I've just discovered that, over a week after I submitted it, The Post published the letter I featured here today. As it's the weekend edition, I'll pick up my souvenir copy tomorrow, but you can see it (again) over on The Post's website...


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Russia: Leading the Way in the Treatment of Homosexuals

..at least that's a viewpoint endorsed by whoever operates the Twitter account at the "Campaign For Marriage".
My interest was piqued when I came across this tweet:

Oh, I thought, what could this be? Well, it turned out to be this:

Well, the pictures were pretty, if you like that sort of thing... In case the type is too small for you, it says:
"I have already said that the sex education will follow to include Homosexual sex. I cannot believe I am saying this but we need to follow the example of Russia and ban homosexual propaganda." [emphasis added]
But what of Russia, it is a member of the G8 and a modern democracy nowadays, isn't it...
...well, that's not quite the take on it in Amnesty International's latest report. Here's what it has to say on the subject of discrimination in Russia:
"Discrimination on grounds such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliation remained widespread. Discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTI individuals was introduced in several regions and proposed at the federal level. A law banning “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderness among minors” came into force in St Petersburg in April. Similar laws were also introduced in Bashkiria, Chukotka, Krasnodar, Magadan, Novosibirsk and Samara regions, and tabled before the State Duma. A number of public LGBTI events were forbidden and participants dispersed by police.
"Across Russia, LGBTI individuals and members of various minority groups continued to face attacks. Such attacks were not effectively investigated by the authorities, and the perpetrators often unidentified.
  • On 4 August, four men forcibly entered an LGBTI club in Tyumen and physically and verbally assaulted several customers. Police detained the attackers. When the victims came to the police station to file complaints, they were left in the same room with the perpetrators, who continued to threaten them and were later released without charge."
And it's not as if this has been an isolated occurance which could be put down to a rogue operative of the Twitter account. I didn't have to go too far on the Campaign for Marriage feed to find these gems:

Now, I don't know who or what is behind the Campaign for Marriage - it says it is "inspired" by the Coalition for Marriage and uses a logo which is similar although not the same. The first example, however, is a clip from this Facebook page in the name of the Coalition for Marriage.
The Coalition for Marriage is "an umbrella group of individuals and organisations in the UK that support traditional marriage and oppose any plans to redefine it." - including many Church of England Bishops, Clergy from other denominations and religions, Peers and MPs. As to the supporting organisations, this is less obvious but it includes (or have links with) CARE, the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Will they, or the Coalition itself, codemn the sentiments evident on the Campaign for Marriage Twitter feed?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

My Letter to The Post (unpublished)

The Mayor in Bristol has been making waves - first with his approach to his first budget earlier this year and subsequently with his plans for a rapid roll-out of Residents' Parking Zones across the city - regardless of the needs or wants of residents in various disparate parts of the City. Whilst some parts of the City undoubtedly did need local schemes, many patently don't.
As the only City to have opted for a Mayor in last year's referendums, the workings of Bristol will come under political and academic scrutiny over the next few years. Opinion will, I'm sure, continue to be divided on the pros and cons of the Mayoral model (or, as this piece in The Economist suggests, the rights and wrongs of the City Mayor model).
Whatever side of the argument you're on (and I'm not in favour of having a Mayor), it would be good if lessons could be learned from the way things have gone so far in Bristol. In particular, I wish the current Mayor would make more time for Council meetings and pay more attention to his fellow representatives and Scrutiny processes.
It was on this subject that I wrote to the Bristol Post last week - although the letter wasn't published there:
Dear Sir,
I read with interest the letter from the Lib Dem Deputy Leader, Christian Martin, published on the 15th July 2013 (‘“Unclear” over Security Issues’). It seems to me that the ability to schedule scrutiny and other meetings of the council in the knowledge that the Mayor would be free to attend would aid the wheels of democracy in the City.
Whilst the Mayor’s drive to get on and do things is, in many ways, commendable, he seems not to realise that being at the helm of a council is not the same as being the director of one of his businesses. The executive power of the council may be vested solely in him but there are 70 other duly elected Councillors. The Mayor must respect their role in the decision making process if he is not to be a dictator, and the council not to be a mere talking shop: he must recognise that he has a moral (if not legal) responsibility to submit to the questioning and scrutiny of Council.
As things stand, Mayor Ferguson makes much of how he listens - but his behaviour tells a different story. First with the budget and subsequently with the proposed Residents’ Parking Zones, the Mayor’s approach has been to seek to railroad decisions and avoid full transparency in the process. When the approach fails, he then concedes ground and argues he was listening all along - despite all evidence to the contrary.
With the furore over RPZs now put to bed, the Mayor has an opportunity to repair fractious relationships with Councillors and opening up his diary would be a good first step. Doing so would be a sign of leadership; as well as demonstrating a willingness to demonstrate accountability and openness - another two of the Bell Principles that he cited as key to his vision for an Independent Mayor.
Without a change in the way the Mayor and the Council relate to each other, the city risks falling into the "fortress culture" that the Mayor said he wished to break. Having promised to encourage “meaningful citizen participation”, he has some way to go in achieving this aim. As things are, members of the public attending council meetings and committees are likely to find the Mayor most noticeable by his absence.
Yours Faithfully,

Andrew Brown
N.B. This was an abridged form of a longer blog post, which you can read on Google Drive, here.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

What *does* "a Stronger Economy and Fairer Society" mean?

If you're a Lib Dem reading this - and there's a fair chance you are - then you would have to have been hiding under a rock for some time not to know that our we want "a stronger economy and a fairer society, allowing everyone to get on in life".

But then, who doesn't want that? It's fairly meaningless unless we relate these aims to policy - things achieved through the coalition, party policy and local policies. Not only that, but we need to relate those policies to people's everyday lives where we can (although the messaging medium may restrict the scope of what can be said!)

Not only that but when spreading the word - we need to be "on message, in volume, over time" - there are no quick fixes and no magic bullet. It's going to be down, in large part, to activists to do it: whether it's by sticking leaflets through doors, through local campaigns, through the media or online.

For online messaging of course, one tool that can be used is Twitter. It's not the be all and end all but it is good for the dissemination of information and shouting about our achievements, repeatedly.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to do this using a couple of hashtags that link back to our slogan: #AStrongerEconomyMeans and #AFairerSocietyMeansHere's some I made earlier - why not have a go at sharing some of your own?:


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Book Review - Blankets

Blankets is a book I would never have come across if I hadn't heard it discussed and recommended on Radio 4's A Good Read (you can hear the episode in question here, UK only, I think...) 

Aside from loving the work of Raymond Briggs as a child, particularly Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows, I had never read a Graphic Novel nor had they ever appealed.

The radio discussion intrigued me though and so I found myself looking for the book in the library. Having come across a copy of the aforementioned When the Wind Blows, my vision alighted on the 582 tome that is Blankets.

Blankets isn't so much a novel as an Autobiography. The narrator is the teenage Craig Thompson, a Christian teenager struggling with juggling his faith and burgeoning sexuality.

The first chapter sets the background of his childhood in a Christian family, living in fear of his strict, disciplinarian father, sharing a room (and a bed) with his brother, making the most of his imagination to help make life bearable. In the second chapter, we meet his first love, Raina, at a Christian summer camp - and the rest of the book revolves around a two-week trip he makes to stay with her and her family. A series of flashbacks are then used to flesh out the earlier years.

The blankets of the title are a recurring theme - the blankets he shared with his brother, the blanket he receives as a gift from Raina, snowfall - and various represent protection from the outside world, a means of escape, a token of love and a blank canvas on which to make a mark... This last interpretation is the end point - the author's journey ending in the satisfaction of having related his story.

It's not, though, a conventional love story - and whilst we may be rooting for Craig and Raina, all too soon it becomes clear that their fling is just a fling. Nor is it an ideal - or idealised - story of childhood; Thompson more than hints at sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter as a child as well as more general abuse from his father. Primarily, it is a tale of teenage angst but his faith adds an angle not often covered in such tales.

Perhaps I was particularly drawn to this due to the familiarity of the scenarios painted. Abuse aside, Blankets has a number of similarities to my own upbringing. I felt huge empathy for Thompson and the dilemmas he faced as he tried to reconcile his feelings, emotions and urges with his faith and the teachings of his church.

The book is beautifully drawn, with great use made of the flexibility of the graphic medium to explode the conventional frame-by-frame approach and allow the pictures to reflect the emotions and scope of the story. Although nearly 600 pages in length, Blankets is a quick read, but it's no less of a good read for that. I highly recommend it - and I will be reading more of Thompson's work, and more in the genre too.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Saturday, 13 July 2013


Here's a sentence I wasn't expecting to write today:

I should have been going to Bristol's Pride, but other plans got in the way.

Pride. It's never been my thing, as I've discussed on these pages before. My sexuality is incidental, not fundamental, to my identity. My politics have primarily been about other issues. 

Pride. It's something that I find a difficult concept in relation to being gay, as I do of *just being* Scottish or British. But just as I'm proud of things many Scots and Brits have done and contributed to the world, I cannot ignore the achievements of those who have blazed a trail for equality.

So I find myself reappraising my view of Pride. I may not have been converted to a Rainbow-flag waving activist*, and I still don't fit into any of the stereotypical gay "tribes" but I do owe a debt of gratitude to those who marched in less open times, and blazed a trail for equality.

I still harbour reservations as to whether Pride as we know it now serves a purpose in advancing equalities; and whether it, or the main LGBT campaigning groups, have a wide enough view of the issues. Whatever; at the very least, it's an opportunity for a party and a festival for those who like that sort of thing.

But it's also an opportunity for something else - something I do take Pride in. It's a chance for Liberal Democrats to celebrate the role they have played in advancing Equal Marriage in the UK. With the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act advancing through Parliament, we have a good story to tell about how Lib Dems in government have pushed it onto the agenda and through the legislative process despite deep divisions on the benches of our coalition partners.

The bill is far from perfect but it is a step forward towards equality within the country; and is a firm example of how we are seeking to build a Fairer Society by participating in government.

And so, today, for the first time, I find myself wishing I had been at Pride. Still, there's always next year...


*I don't think I'll ever get the thing about the rainbow flag.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The End

Dear Reader,
I've neglected you, and I'm truly, truly sorry.
I could lay out the reasons for my absence - how life has got in the way, my habits have changed, how things have been busy, how I've been away... but really, they would all be excuses.
You have, however, never been far from my thoughts. The list of posts I want to make has grown long even if the moment for some of them has come - and then gone a begging.
Well, that's the way these apologies are supposed to go... but this isn't about you, though, it's about me. A blog, after all, is a selfish exercise; for all one wants to talk about sharing thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes with the world, it's a solitary pursuit which is more about the writer than his/her readers.
I'm afraid, dear reader, that you are not the be all and end all. You do matter - but you only matter when there's more of you. As I said, it's a selfish exercise.
And so, with each passing day of none-posting, the reader numbers dwindle away and the harder (and less worthwhile) it seems to get back on the saddle. An inertia kicks in, a tendency to adapt to the new norm and go about doing what I have been doing, rather than going back to what I did do. It's the proverbially slippery slope which has seen a month already go by without a post.
And it ends today.
Not the blog - although that has been considered - but the recent intermission.
Although I have a busy weekend ahead - and I am genuinely more busy at other times - I am climbing back into that saddle. I, hope, dear remaining reader, that you can forgive me my harsh words and will continue to read as I re-commence this venture. And, perhaps, we will be joined by others as we move on from this hiatus... 
Sincerely Yours,