Monday, 30 July 2012

Jack White at the Hordern Pavilion, 26 July 2012

I've go a confession to make: I used to be a rockabilly. This was when I was about 17 years old, right after a brief gothic stint and just before donning Doc Martens and jumping around to Ska and Punk music. It took me a year or so to figure out that my rockabilly friends not only adopted the music from the 1950s, but also the macho culture and latent racism of this period. But for a while my girlfriend and I were part of this cool gang, clad in leather jackets adorned with the Confederate flag, sticky hair and all; feeling very rebellious and different indeed. Until I understood that subcultures are in a way much more conservative than the mainstream, with their stringent rules about the right clothes, the right hair and the right music. Rebellion? Sure. Individuality? No way.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I'm at a concert again - one that I had been looking forward to for months. The support act is the infectiously cheerful Lanie Lane with her mix of rock'n' roll, blues and rockabilly. And that music takes me right back to these exciting times of carving out an identity, deciding where I want to belong and gradually realising what's important (and it isn't what brand of hairspray you're using).

After this stroll down memory lane allow me to be briefly reduced to a gushing teenager in reliving the amazing two hours that are the Jack White concert. Oh. My. God. What a musician! What a guy! I was never so right in anticipating an event; this is without a doubt the best concert I saw this year, if not one of the best I've ever been to. Jack White is a true rock star. Mysterious, a bit bonkers, it seems, but oh so sexy, and with the most amazing voice and guitar skills.

With his terrific all-male band (alternating nightly between this and an all-female band), he plays songs from his time with the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, and from his debut solo album Blunderbuss, about which I wrote in an earlier blog entry. He starts thunderously with Black Math from his Elephant album with the White Stripes. To imagine the power: With just one gesture you indicate you want the audience to clap, and several thounsand people obediently raise their hands. The contrast between his earlier, explosive pieces like The Hardest Button To Button and his new material as a solo artist is sometimes stark, but White pulls it off as he tackles each song with intense concentration. It is only halfway through the concert that he allows himself a half-smile. He ends the concert with an electric rendition of Seven Nation Army, and the crowd goes wild, shouting the lyrics and roaring the bassline. I'm squeezed in, I am drenched in sweat and my lukewarm beer is sloshing out of my plastic cup as I jump up and down - in short, it is exactly how a great concert is supposed to be.

You might have noticed the slight improvement in the quality of the concert photos (I know, the photos of my rockabilly years are pretty dodgy. They are scanned, but I couldn't figure out how to change the frame. Where is your personal technical advisor when you need him...).
I could claim that I took a proper camera this time and was really, really close to the stage. But I'm just going to admit that I got them from Jack White's official website (, because we weren't allowed to take photos. I'm sure you're glad.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

I feel like sharing a poem again; one that I love passionately and irrationally in equal measures, as it is - in my view - intensely beautiful, but quite long and not easily accessible, although it is very well known. It is a wonderful example of what I wrote about poetry earlier; that it is sometimes best just to let it wash over you and trust that the poem will carry you safely ashore.

John Keats had the extraordinary power to move his contemporaries as well as readers today. Surely part of his appeal is due to the tragic circumstances of his short life and his death of tuberculosis at the young age of only twenty-five years. He fell in love with his Hampstead neighbour Fanny Brawne, a romance that was beautifully captured in the movie "Bright Star". Keats wrote almost all of his major poetry in the short period between 1818 and his death in 1821.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Clustered around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets covered up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: Do I wake or sleep?