Tag Archives: music

On Simplicity

I just watched a YouTube video on P vs. NP and the computational complexity zoo inspired by the Complexity Zoo Wiki. Despite the title, the video ended with a couple of quotes about simplicity. The first was Attributed to Frederic Chopin:

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.

Continue reading

Combined Update

Not long after returning from my Stonehenge trip I was away again for a wedding in Devon. I say a wedding but it was not one that would be recognised by UK law – indeed the ceremony included the words “fuck the state and it’s bits of paper”. The event took place at Landmatters permaculture project near Totnes, which I had heard about but never visited. There were around 200 guests camping for the weekend and I knew a lot of them (including the happy couple) from the 2005 G8 Bike Ride and Bicycology. For music and PA they were keen to use the bicycle towed sound system called Pedals that I helped build nine years ago for the G8 ride, so I agreed to fetch it in my van from its present home in a London and take it to Devon.  I set off a day early to visit a friend Mike in Exeter and slept on his boat before continuing on to Totnes, from where I followed directions down increasingly narrow lanes to Landmatters.

At Land Matters

At Land Matters

Continue reading

Cycle Superhighways

Although I live and work in Hertfordshire I often visit London and almost invariably take my bike with me on the train. London is vast but I am getting to know my way round quite well. Sometimes I come across the blue painted sections of road which collectively make up the somewhat misleadingly named Barclays Cycle Superhighways. These are cycle routes running from outer London into Central London and according to TfL they “give you safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city and could be your best and quickest way to get to work”. I tend to ride fast and am confident mixing with motorised traffic on any road in London so these bits of blue paint don’t make a great deal of difference to me, but they do seem to give less experienced cyclists the confidence to use roads they otherwise would have avoided. However, the routes leave much to be desired and there have been a number of high profile fatalities.
Continue reading

Oh What Fun we HAD

I couldn’t resist using that as a title. HAD in this case is refers to Hertfordshire Action on Disability and the fun (as is often the case with me) involved cycling. For many years HAD has offered support, advice and vital services to disabled and older people in Hertfordshire. Unfortunately, due to the “financial crisis”, their funding has been drastically cut and in order to maintain services they will have to make up the shortfall. As part of this funding drive they decided to organise a charity bike ride and got in touch with me a few months back to ask if I would help out (they found me through the Hertfordshire Local Access Forum where I am a member representing the interests of cyclists). The idea was for riders to start wherever they liked but with a common destination at Woollams Playing Fields (home of the Old Albanian Rugby Football Club) on Harpenden Road, just north of St Albans. The date was set for Sunday June 23rd and the event organiser, Paul Bishop, was looking for me to help run a ride starting at Gosling Sports Park in Welwyn Garden City.
Continue reading

All Aboard the Stubnitz

In October last year I read about the Greenheart Project to develop a modern zero-emissions small cargo ship powered by wind and sun alone and able to land cargo on a remote beach using a mast which doubles as a crane. If you have been following my blog you will know that this sort of thing is right up my street so when I learned that they were crowdfunding on indiegogo I created an account and made a contribution of $100 in exchange for a ‘share’ in the maiden voyage. At the end of April it was announced to supporters that the building contract for SV Greenheart had been signed and a series of events was arranged to celebrate the occasion, the first of which was aboard the MS Stubnitz in London Docklands on May 16th. I wanted to learn more about the project anyway but the choice of venue clinched it because I had been aboard the Stubnitz once before and was curious to see her again. The first visit was back in 2005 after I had been on the G8 Bike Ride and decided to visit Amsterdam with four Americans who had also been on the ride. On our last night there was a big party on the Stubnitz with live music from the Seattle-based Infernal Noise Brigade

Infernal Noise Brigade on MS Stubnitz

Infernal Noise Brigade on MS Stubnitz

Continue reading

Reclaim Love

Me at Reclaim Love 2009

Me at Reclaim Love 2009

I have mentioned Reclaim Love in passing a couple of times on this blog. The event occurs on the closest Saturday to Valentines Day and has happened for ten consecutive years in London. I have been present on seven occasions, normally with a sound system. I didn’t make it in 2012 and this year Venus got in touch to say that I was missed, and to ask me to come back for the 10th anniversary. Well how could I refuse? I was only going to talk about this year’s event but I started thinking back to earlier ones and decided to do a post about the history of Reclaim Love, or rather the history of the London event from my perspective.
Continue reading


I was in London on Wednesday for a reading by my friend Aidan Andrew Dun from his latest book, Unholyland published by Hesperus:

Unholyland is a love story in 264 sonnets. Against the background of daily events in the West Bank and Israel, an Israeli DJ, Moshe, meets and falls in love with a Palestinian rapper, Jalilah. In a trance-like world of music, verse and drugs, the star-crossed lovers come together in spite of the barriers of religion and politics.

The event was at Housmans bookshop in Kings Cross and I was one of the first to arrive. There was a £3 entry fee which was redeemable against any purchase and I put it towards a copy of Unholyland which Aidan signed for me. By 7pm about 15 people had arrived, more or less filling the seats that had been set out in the somewhat cramped bookshop.
Continue reading

Tara Oceans in London

I have a friend in the United States who has been involved in phytoplankton research for a while and spent a lot of time aboard ships sampling off Maine. About a week ago she recommended that I visit the sailing vessel Tara, which is currently docked in London having just completed a two and a half year, 70,000 mile voyage called Tara Oceans, investigating marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

Tara at St Katherine Docks

Continue reading

Love no have no Government

The title of this post is taken from the words of “Time Conquer”, a track on the album “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” by Lee Scratch Perry and Dub Syndicate. When the album was first released in 1987 I was living in the United States doing post graduate research at Dartmouth Collage in Hanover New Hampshire. Before leaving England in 1985 my primary musical influence had been the legendary John Peel whose show on BBC Radio 1 I listened to religiously. Peel did play some reggae and I didn’t dislike it but I was more into bands like The Cocteau Twins and The Fall.

Arriving in Hanover I found the locals to be generally very welcoming but in some ways I had more in common with other international students and in 1988 I moved into a shared house at 19 Maple Street with people from counties like Guyana, India and Pakistan. Remember this was during the Apartheid era and Dartmouth Collage had significant investments in South Africa, something which the Dartmouth Community for Divestment (DCD) were trying to change. There were a few South African students who regularly visited 19 Maple and their personal experience of Apartheid made them key figures in the campaign. They often turned up in the evening and “held court” in our living room. I don’t remember contributing a great deal to the discussions but I listened attentively and I guess that is the time I really started developing a serious political consciousness, aided in large part I think by two things – cannabis and reggae.

I had somehow managed to reach my twenties without ever coming across cannabis. One day while visiting a friend in nearby Thetford he told me he had grown some in his back yard and asked if I wanted to try it. I had never even smoked a cigarette before so I was a bit hesitant but after watching him load a pipe with pure weed and take a toke I just followed suit and waited for something to happen. The effect came on quickly and was like nothing I had ever experienced – consciousness expanding is probably the best way to describe it. The world was never really quite the same again.

Something that people who have tried cannabis generally agree on is that it enhances the experience of listening to music. The herb is used as a sacrament in the Rastafari movement so it was perhaps inevitable that reggae featured heavily in the soundtrack to life at 19 Maple Street. It was great to listen to while stoned but it was also both spiritual and political. There was Bob Marley of course. I particularly remember the album “Rastaman Vibration” with tracks like “Crazy Baldhead”, “Rat Race”, and “War” (featuring lyrics derived from the words of a speech by Haile Selassie to the United Nations). After returning to England I started learning to play reggae by jamming with friends and I found that what drives it is the rhythm section, consisting of drum kit and electric bass guitar. In the case of Bob Marley’s band it was Carlton Barrett on drums and his brother Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass who were essential to the music that made Bob an international superstar. The Barrett Brothers also played with Lee “Scratch” Perry but on the album “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” it was Lincoln “Style” Scott on drums and Errol “Flabba” Holt (gotta love those names) on bass. Time Boom was a particular favourite at 19 Maple and I still love it – Perry inhabits that intersection of madness and pure genius. The album opens with a track called “S.D.I.”, referring to the U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative (aka Star Wars). Other tracks include “Allergic to Lies” and the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “Time Conquer”, which includes the lyrics “Cursed are all liars and blessed are the people who speak the truth”. Perry made a lot of music before Time Boom, and has made a lot more since – I recently discovered his 2004 album Panic in Babylon with great tracks like “Voodoo” and “I Am a Psychiatrist”.

Learning about what was happening in South Africa was just the start – the Apartheid government did not have a monopoly on oppression! I remember meeting the Deputy Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour when he came to Dartmouth at the invitation of the International Students Association and gave an enlightening talk about the history of Palestine. Then there was the situation in Central America (the Iran-Contra affair had come to light in November 1986) as well as domestic issues relating to the treatment of African and Native Americans. On the Dartmouth campus itself there were problems with racism, sexism and homophobia, particularly within some of the Fraternities. I was undergoing a process of radicalisation during which I had to question many of my own views. In one case I remember a long discussion with a friend about abortion. I hadn’t really thought about it much before but if anything I guess I had previously been “pro-life” (that is certainly the position I was arguing). After several hours I understood the errors in my previous thinking and I have been staunchly “pro-choice” ever since (and the friend who convinced me was male and from Pakistan).

So some reggae was politically contentious, like the track “Abortion” from the 1983 album “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by Black Uhuru. To the extent that Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion grounded in the Old Testament it shares certain sexist and homophobic tendencies with the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), tendencies that are undoubtedly revealed in some reggae music. These problems were of course discussed (and to a limited extent excused on the basis of cultural differences) but they couldn’t negate the positive messages in what we listened to.

Another 19 Maple favourite was Forces of Victory by Linton Kwesi Johnson from 1979, and again it was music that had a lasting influence on me. Later I discovered his other early albums, “Dread Beat an’ Blood from 1978 and “Bass Culture” from 1980. I returned to England in 1990 and a year later he released “Tings An’ Times” which features some fantastic guest solos on flute, violin, accordion etc. The amazing thing is that Linton is probably more famous as a poet than as a musician, having become only the second living poet (after Alan Ginsburg) to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

Hanover is situated on the Connecticut River and crossing the bridge takes you into Norwich Vermont. Of course things looked pretty similar on the other side but it felt very different. The state of New Hampshire (Live Free or Die) seemed more business oriented whereas Vermont (Green Mountain State) was possibly unique at the time in having a Socialist mayor (Bernie Sanders, Mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989). We even referred to it as The People’s Republic of Vermont. Burlington also hosted the Vermont Reggae Festival, a free annual event that began in 1986. I don’t think I was at the first one but I did go at least twice and possibly three times. Unlike just about every outdoor festival I have been to since then it only had one stage so there were no clashing sound systems. It also had the massive speaker stacks required for a proper outdoor reggae amplification – even when I went for a swim out in Lake Champlain I could still feel the bass.

Eventually it became clear that I was not going to finish my PhD in plasma physics so I said goodbye to New Hampshire and returned to England. I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do next so I got in touch with one of the Dartmouth radicals who had graduated and moved to London maybe a year earlier. He was working for an organisation called the Newham Monitoring Project which I got involved with on an occasional basis, but he also put me on to a group called the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign. The TSDC had only recently formed with the purpose of supporting all those arrested at the Poll Tax Riot and helping to coordinate their legal defence. It was run by and for defendants but there was a huge amount of work to do and any help was greatly appreciated – I remember sending out newsletters to supporters, logging video footage, attending court appearances etc. That was my introduction to the London anarchist scene and I still see some of the people I met back then at the annual London Anarchist Bookfair.

I have rambled on long enough but I just want to complete the circle. A few years ago I was flicking through a zine and came across a top ten list of albums chosen by anarchists. It probably featured Crass and Chumbawamba but I was pleased to see that it also included “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” – as Perry said, love no have no government.

The Black Rider

I went to the Barbican this evening for a concert performance of Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber. It is not the sort of thing I would normally do but a friend of the family had two tickets and wanted someone to go with her. When her husband was alive they were both big fans of soprano Sally Matthews (who sang the role of Aennchen tonight) and she still tries to get to as many of her concerts as she can. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and was particularly impressed by Lars Woldt who had stepped in in to sing the role of the fiendish Kaspar when Falk Struckman had to withdraw due to illness. Lars was so convincing that he actually scared me a little!

As the performance was being introduced I experienced a sense of deja vu. Had I not seen another performance in London based on the same German Folk Legend involving seven magic bullets? It came back to me slowly and I got as far as remembering that it was a play called The Black Rider in which Marianne Faithful played the devil. I suspected it might even have been at the Barbican so when I got home I checked my notes and found that I had indeed been to see The Black Rider at the Barbican Theatre in June 2004. At the time I found a good review of the production by Dan Hill on the City of Sound blog and it was nice to to find that the URL still works eight years later.