Glencomeragh in August

Glencomeragh in August


Let’s Get Sophisticated! #SophistiPop Old and New …. with Bryan Ferry, ABC, Michael Franks, Destroyer, Red Box, Aztec Camera, Marshall Crenshaw and the Style Council

“Sophisti-Pop” is a subgenre of pop that takes musical elements from jazz, MOR, synthpop and what could be best called easy listening, and mixes them with a more literary-than-visceral, slightly detached lyrical sensibility. And a lot of sax. Or at least that’s one attempt at a definition, although the songs I included on this playlist include plenty of outliers:

I also feel Sophti-Pop’s origins are obviously well before the 1980s. For me, the Roxy Music of Avalon (1981)  and Oh Yeah (1980)  are the quintessential Sophisti-Pop band and the Bryan Ferry of Slave to Love (1985) the quintessential Sophisti-pop singer but in Ferry’s 1970 solo work especially we find pop as Sophisti as it comes.  Here is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes from 1974’s Another Time, Another Place (and the tux he is rocking on the cover it the quintessential Sophisti-pop look):

Actually maybe the quintessential sophist-pop look is Martin Fry’s gold tuxedo. Final use of the word “quintessential” in this post: for me, “Valentine’s Day” is the quintessential sophisti-pop song. It has a quality of being overwrought, stylised and more than a little tongue in cheek – while at the same time being totally sincerely heartbroken. Oh and “School For Scandal/Guess Who’s Enrolled” is the quinte- sorry, archetypal Sophisti-Pop couplet:

Reviewing my playlist there are quite a few entries I felt had to be included more for representativeness rather than great enthusiasm on my part (Level 42, Temper Trap) but also many neglected artists who would shy away from the Sophisti-Pop label. Red Box are best known for The Circle and the Square, a dominant album of my childhood (the pop hit “For America” being a gateway song to a small-s-and-unironic sophisticated album) but in recent years I discovered the even stronger follow up, Motive. And here is opening song Train.

Another recent discovery has been Michael Franks, definitely from the jazz end of the spectrum, setting a rueful template which Paddy McAloon amongst others have follow. Here’s When Sly Calls (Don’t Touch That Phone):

The playlist is called Sophisti-Pop Old And New, and to my mind this kind of music has aged quite well (better than it might have seemed during the grungey 90s?). New sophisti-pop tinged music is still being made.  Destroyer’s 2011 album Kaputt is highly Sophisti, especially the title track, but here is the more downtempo Chinatown:

Not a sax to be heard in Aztec Camera’s Spanish Horses, but it’s as Sophisti as they come:

I knew  Your’e My Favourite Waste of Time best in the rather stereotypically 80s Owen Paul cover, but here is the original by Marshall Crenshaw which has a more Sophisti sensibilty :

I could go on and on and on and on (in fact, I have already written and deleted “finally” about five times in this post) but the final finally is here – and I am desperately trying to avoid the q word but the Style Council’s “Shout to the Top” is, well, um, a really good example of Sophisti Pop:




August 9th 1969: Arthur C Clarke claims ‘If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong’


From “A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas” by Roy Sorensen :


“‘If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong,’ declared Arthur C. Clarke (New Yorker, 9 August 1969). An elderly but distinguished scientist replies, ‘It is impossible for Mr Clarke to be correct.’  How likely is the elderly scientist’s claim?”

Check out the answer tomorrow! And here is the original article featuring Clarke’s claim, Jeremy Bernstein’s “Out of the Ego Chamber”:


Clarke has been in the business of scientific and technological prophecy for over thirty years now, and from this experience he has evolved a set of laws and principles. There are three basic Clarke Laws. (He once remarked that if three laws were enough for Newton they were enough for him.) The First Clarke Law states, “If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.” Clarke has confirmed this law by counting up the elderly but distinguished prewar astronomers who “proved,” by portentous calculations, that space flight was technologically impossible. The Second Clarke Law was originally a simple sentence in his book “Profiles of the Future” but was promoted to a law by the translator of the French edition. It states, “The only way to find the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” The Third, and most recently formulated, Clarke Law, which he made use of in writing the enigmatic ending of “2001,” states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In addition to the laws, there are several empirical principles, one of which Clarke feels is fully applicable to his 1945 Wireless World article on the communications satellite; namely, that in making scientific prophecies the tendency is to be optimistic in the short range and pessimistic in the long. At the time that Clarke wrote his Wireless Worldarticle, the V-2s had already fallen on London, so it was well known that high-altitude rockets were a practical possibility. Clarke felt that they would be used as high-altitude research probes, and in 1944 he predicted that this would take place within a decade, which was somewhat optimistic. However, the communications satellite, he felt, would not come into existence for half a century or more, which was pessimistic, since Syncom 3, the first synchronous TV satellite, was launched on August 19, 1964. In his “Pre-History,” Clarke has an interesting aside concerning that launching. He writes:

This event, incidentally, is a good example of the perils that beset a prophet. In October, 1961, while moderating a panel discussion at the American Rocket Society . . . I had mentioned that the 1964 Olympics would be a good target to shoot for with a synchronous satellite. (I cannot claim credit for the idea, which I’d picked up in general discussions a few days earlier.) Dr. William Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was in the front row of my audience, and he was so tickled with the suggestion that hepassed it on to Vice-President Johnson, speaker at the society’s banquet the next evening. The Vice-President, in turn, thought it was such a good idea that he departed from his prepared speech to include it; so when “Profiles of the Future” was published in 1962, I felt confident enough to predict that most large cities would carry live transmissions from Tokyo in 1964. What I had failed to foresee was that, despite heroic efforts by the White House, the Communications Satellite Corporation, nasa, and the Hughes Aircraft Company (builders of Syncom 3), a large part of the United States did not see the superb live transmissions from the Olympics, which were made available by this triumph of technology. Why? Because they arrived at an awkward time, and the networks did not want to upset their existing program and advertising arrangements!

102 Years Ago today: A young composer cut down by World War I, George Butterworth, “Fantasia for Orchestra”

Amidst the massive toll of lives lost in the First World War were many many writers, artists and composers. The War Poets, Franz Marc, Apollonaire … and so many unknown or barely know now.

One who has in recent years been recollected is the English composer George Butterworth, 1885-1916, who died 102 years ago today. Here is a bio from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library:

One of England’s most distinctive composers, George Butterworth was born on 12 July 1885 in London, the only child of Sir Alexander Kaye Butterworth (1854-1946), a solicitor and later general manager of the North Eastern Railway Company. George first attended school in Yorkshire before entering Eton College as a King’s scholar in 1899. His aptitude for music was nurtured there as well as with Christian Padel in York. From 1904 to 1908 he was in residence at Trinity College, Oxford, where he managed a third class in the honour school of literae humaniores and was active in musical circles, holding the presidency of the university musical club from October 1906 to March 1907.

Following Oxford he worked for a short while as a music critic for The Times and also contributed to the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1904-1910). Following a brief teaching post at Radley College he returned to London and from October 1910 to November 1911 was enrolled at the Royal College of Music, where he studied organ and piano, as well as theory and composition.

His involvement with English folk music and dance now began and his close friendship and collaboration with a leading figure in this burgeoning movement, Ralph Vaughan Williams, which had begun in his Oxford days, was central to this. Butterworth became a collector, noting down more than 450 items, including songs, dance tunes, and dances. In 1906 he joined the Folk-Song Society and later became a prominent figure in the English Folk Dance Society, of which he was one of the founders in 1911, as well as a member of its dance demonstration team. He collected and arranged an album of Sussex folk songs and, in collaboration with Cecil Sharp, published several books of country and morris dances.

Butterworth enlisted on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and was commissioned in the 13th Durham Light Infantry. He was three times recommended for, and was twice awarded, the Military Cross. The second decoration honoured conduct on the morning of his death, 5 August 1916; when he was killed at Pozieres during the first battle of the Somme. He was buried at the front line.

I came across Butterworth via Spotify’s Discover Weekly list – specifically Fantasia, a work of haunting, piercing yearning:

This Fantasia was completed by Kriss Russmann. This page discusses Butteworth and this version and one completed by Martin Yates:


Here is some footage of Butterworth Morris Dancing:



August in the first Antarctic Night

Through the First Antarctic Night”,  or to give it’s full title, “Through the First Antarctic Night 1898-1899: A Narrative of the Voyage of the Belgica Among Newly Discovered Lands and Over an Unknown Sea about the South Pole” by Frederick Albert Cook is an account of the first over-winter stay by human beings (known) in the Antarctic. Of course, an Antarctic Winter is also an Antarctic Night. Cook would later be disgraced and imprisoned for fraud, as well as having his reputation tarnished by a dispute with Robert Peary over who first reached the North Pole.


“The month of August was, on the whole, one of the greatest disappointments of our experience in the Antarctic. We expected low temperatures and bright, cheerful weather. With the coming sun we hoped to dispel our anaemia and make ourselves ready for a series of difficult tasks to be undertaken in September and October; but instead we failed more and more in strength, and developed alarming mental symptoms. One man was temporarily insane, and several others were nearing a similar condition. The weather was stormy, the atmosphere was charged with clouds of sand-like drift-snow, and the sun was almost constantly invisible, though it rose higher and higher and swept more and more of the horizon daily. For one month following sunrise, like the month preceding its departure, the conditions were in effect a part of the night. It is true we had a little misty grayness at noon which we called daylight, but this was counterbalanced by the never ceasing tempests which drove such a blast of cutting snow that life outside was impossible. The first glimpses of sunlight had aroused us to new ambitions, and to spasmodic spells of cheerfulness, but this hellish series of storms sent us again into the most abject gloom of the night.”

The Commons – Ballingarry Famine Walk , 28th July 2018

The Commons – Ballingarry Famine Walk , 28th July 2018

A little while ago I blogged that Choctaw artist/writer Waylon Gary White Deer was to lead a Famine Walk on the 28th July

Well, today was the 28th July, so off I and one of my children went to join Waylon Gary White Deer to walk from The Commons, where the Irish tricolour was first flown, to the nearby Famine Warhouse, where the 1848 Rising took place on the 29th July.

I don’t believe in photographing every aspect of my life  and today preferred to have the experience rather than snap away all the time. Anyway, all too many photos would have been like this:

So perhaps that’s just as well.

It began in heavy rain, had a massive hail shower a few minutes in, but continued in sunshine. At The Commons a couple of brief speeches were made and then off to the Famine Warhouse. The walk gave good views of the Slieveardagh  hills. The group was good humoured and tolerant of my son’s laser-guided devotion to running into puddles.

I had never visited the Warhouse before. I was surprised by how remote it was, and how far off the road. At the roadhouse another heavy shower slightly delayed proceedings before a fascinating account of the 29th July 1848 by a local historian. I had got the events mangled in what little memory I had of the day; I thought the Warhouse was where the Young Irelanders were besieged; in fact it was they doing the besieging of the Callan Police who had commandeered the recently complete house. Until the Cashel police made their way there, which marked the end of the 1848 Rebellion.

The events of 1848 have to be contextualised not only in the famine years but also the 1848 wave of bloodless revolutions in Europe, may of which occurred seemingly without effort on the part of revolutionaries.

The speech also brought home that the peaceful-seeming site saw two deaths, Young Irelanders killed feet from us.

After this speech Waylon Gary White Deer gave a heartfelt speech which told the story of the gift given by Choctaws – not their government, but ordinary people – for Famine Relief. This was again given context, of the Choctaw’s own experience of oppression and dispossession. Waylon Gary White Deer was rather self effacing discussing this, repeatedly mentioning it was a small amount financially, but ultimately underlining the importance of acts of remembrance like this walk.

The National Anthem was played by local musicians the Mangled Badgers and all was followed by refreshments with more music from the Mangled Badgers, here in action:

Then it was just a matter of returning down the hill to The Commons.

The Go Betweens : Cattle and Cane

“Icnoic” is a hugely overused word. Everything famous or even just well-known (ish) seems to be dubbed iconic. Yet it is the word that keeps coming back when I think of The Go-Betweens’ “Cattle and Cane.”

I think it is the other sense of icon, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, a stylised yet somehow living representation. Stylised in that there is a formal, repetitive pattern to the song, and living in that Grant McLennan’s memories become our own.

As this post by Thom Hickey evokes brilliantly, “Cattle And Cane” is a tapestry of childhood memories and longings tied together by an immortal, driving, sensitive-yet-oddly-hard riff.

And I didn’t know it was written on Nick Cave’s guitar.

The Immortal Jukebox

What are we made of?

Well, you could say we are mainly Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium and Phosphorous.

Add some pinches of Potassium, Sodium, Sulphour, Chlorine and Magnesium.

Just the tiniest amounts of Boron, Chromium, Cobalt and Copper.

Traces of Flouridine, Iron, Iodine, Manganese, Silicon, Selenium, Vanadium, Molybdenum, Tin and Zinc.

Scientifically that’s absolutely the case.

Still, I prefer to think we are, each of us,  a whirling constellation of dreams and memories.

Dreams beget memories and memories beget dreams.

We are star shine, dreams and memories.

Just before you go to sleep – a shimmer in the mind.

Just before you wake up – slow spools of overexposed film.

A Life lived in a landscape of dreams and memories.

Sometimes pin sharp with hallucinatory detail.

The grain of the kitchen table, the fragrance of your mother’s perfume, the bark of a long dead dog, the leathery feel of your…

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