Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post card from the House of the rising Sun

I’m really not a morning person – and with hindsight I should have booked this fly away trip to Maui in the first week of my stay – while jet lag was still waking me before sunrise across Waikiki… But I managed to surface for the 5am pick up for the short flight to Maui to join the Polynesian Adventure Tour to the summit of Haleakala, Central Maui and Iao Valley … oh for the days of walking straight onto planes without the delays and early check-ins of the post 9/11 era 

View of Wailuku from Haleakala

On my last tour of Maui, I’d taken the tour that circles the Haleakala National Park via the road to Hana and the cliff hugging track along the southern coast of Maui. While the feet of man building a road along the twisting coastline is impressive – it is nothing compared to the views of what nature has built from the top of the dormant volcano! There is another tour to the summit of the volcano that allows you to observe the sun rise – maybe on my next trip to these paradise Islands I’ll have to arrange a few days on Maui to be able to witness that sight – yet another early rise….

Silversword at the summit of Haleakala Haleakala has many unique species living and growing on its slopes – amongst them plants that have developed a covering of hairs that give the plants a gray/silver colour that gives them their English name – silversword –  the Hawaiian is ʻāhinahina – “very gray”, the Hawaiian culture had no metals – so no silver to match to the colour of the plants to themselves…
We were lucky with the weather, clear blue skies and views as far as the two volcanoes on Big Island – however the 10,000+ foot of altitude meant the advice to bring some warm clothes for this part of the tour was good – and at that altitude the air was definitely lacking the oxygen I’d enjoyed relaxing at sea level on Waikiki beach! Haleakala Crator from Haleakala Visitor Center
Iao Valley State Park Leaving the peak behind there was a long down hill drive, with a short break for lunch in the village of Makawao – which has an incredibly laid back felling to it – it felt like a place with a wonderfully slow pace of life. It could have been straight out of a western – apart from the cars lining the streets!

Then on to Iao Valley State Park, one of the many valleys of the smaller and older mount of Wailuku – which being on the windward side of the mountain was a green oasis complete with a micro climate that had us all scurrying for the tour bus as a heavy down pour filled the valley.
The tour ended in in Lahaina, and for those of us returning to Honolulu a chance to browse the local shops and enjoy the sunset over Lānaʻi, while those from local hotels were returned to them… Lahaina Beach Front
Sunset from Lahaina over Lanai Sunset from Maui over sea cliffs of Lanai

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Random monetary questions from/about the US of A

Why is the dime half the weight, and smaller than the nickel – yet worth twice as much as a token of currency? Also, why are the dollar notes of all the denominations I’ve encountered hard to distinguish – being uniform in size and colour (or color)… Yes I know they all have their value printed on them – but that requires removing them from your wallet/purse to inspect them, which is avoided in other nations by knowing the larger ones are the higher value ones – and that they all have distinctive colours – so a “the larger, purple, drinking token” will normally cover all but the largest rounds….

What is it with the practice of pricing everything without tax? This inevitably leads to people, at least tourists, not really knowing how much things are actually going to be – which is a minor inconvenience but I’d also guess it has an real economic impact, as it inevitably leads to totals even of a small number of items which aren’t nice round numbers with a few cent, nickels or dimes of change being needed – adding to the number of coins that need to be in circulation – or no longer in circulation, because they are lost down the back of the nations sofas. Judging by the state of some of the cents I’ve been give in change for my uniformly sized and coloured notes, some have been in and out of circulation for a long time…

Are these quirks driven by a nation that has almost become a cashless society? Using cash to pay for something has lead to a few funny looks – with the possible exception of tipping at the bar – which is one area I assume escapes all taxes!!!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bright Eyes in Honolulu

21st November - Bright Eyes supported by Shopping List at Hawaii Theatre Center, Honolulu

Bright Eyes ended a year of touring with a final night in Honolulu – as I also happened to be in Honolulu and there appears to be a lack of well advertised live music in this tropical paradise, other than the clichéd performances that accompanies eating in hotels along the Waikiki strip, it gave me one of two opportunities while away from the onset of winter in London to feed my growing addiction to live music.

The Hawaii Theatre Center must have been the only venue of a suitable size available as it was far from ideal for the event; all seated venues just don’t allow the atmosphere that is possible when standing at a “rock concert”… Had they been able to remove the chairs from the stalls and make downstairs a standing area it would have worked well – but that didn’t look like it was an option. As a result the overly polite audience remained in their, admittedly very confortable, seats until cagouled into breaking out and standing at the close of the evening! The situation could have been assisted if the band had positioned themselves at the front of the enormous stage – rather than spreading themselves across the back…

Shopping List supporting Bright Eyes at the Hawaii Theatre Centre
From Bright Eyes 2011
The support act were the local band Shopping List. Given the small number of gigs, the opportunity to be the “local support to travelling big act” must be hard fought for – and Shopping List filled the roll well – their music matching the genre of the main act and being up beat so as to warm up an audience primarily there to support the headliners. It did appear, that beyond the usual friends and family, they also had a substantial number of their own fans in the auditorium, which was well deserved for a band that gave a polished performance.

When Bright Eyes took to the stage I was a little worried that the vast array of instruments, including two drum kits and two keyboard positions would lead them in to the trap I’ve heard others fall into of over complicating the performance with different instruments and distracting from the music itself – they neatly avoided that.

Bright Eyes at the Hawaii Theatre Center

Their music had elements of two other bands from the US that I’ve recently heard live in London – Group Love and My Morning Jackets. For me the most successful parts of the evening were those where the music was stripped back to the primary members of Bright Eyes with voice, guitar, single synth and occasional brass contribution.

Included in the set where a number of anti-war songs, I’d suggest targeting the recent conflicts which the US has involved itself in in the middle east, rather that the campaigns in Asia that inspired a previous generation of song writers – war appears to inspire more musicians than most topics, possibly other than love, to write – I’ve yet to hear too many serious songs prompted by the other current trend of hating the investment banking industry – maybe because that is mainly stoked up by the political classes themselves to deflect from their duplicity in the current world wide finical troubles by pointing the finger at the investment bankers, but contrast the anti war songs were/are directed against the political elites risking the lives of the young for their own causes…

I’m sure if I hunted hard enough, I’d find the smaller venue in Hawaii where the likes of Shopping List are developing – and being 6 flying hours from anywhere must be a distinct downside to other bands adding Hawaii to their tours – but it is such a pleasant place to be that I’m surprised it isn’t on more round the world musical adventures – especially considering the place it is 6 hours flying from, LA, is such a mecha for musicals – and that so many of the most successful of musicians have made homes in the island state.

Post card from Waikiki

It is easy to forget that even in Hawaii’s tropical location in the middle of the Pacific, being north of the equator – and actually not as far south as some would think – it is only just further south, for instance than Miami – so it is only just the most southerly state of the USA, November is officially “winter”… as such most of Oahu has actually been overcast most of the time since I arrived – Waikiki appears to have been fortunate to avoid this fate, and has probably benefited from the slightly cloudy sky to moderate the temperature a little…

One of my primary reasons to travel 1/3 of the way round the world at this particular time of year was to enjoy, what has been, during my previous two visits, the spectacular photographic opportunity of the worlds best surfers taming the mountainous surf on the North Shore… I’ve not been so lucky this year – apparently because of a second year of the El Niño, the surf has so far been too small at the location of Reef Hawaiian Pro for competition to begin – but the forecast is that there will be sufficient swell for a compressed event in the last 3 days of the scheduled 12 day window before the Thanksgiving break… Hopefully the winter waves will be back after Thanksgiving for the second event of the Vans Triple Crown on Sunset beach.

The lack of surfing has meant days of soaking up the sun, and the slightly less sunny conditions have given my London skin a more gentle introduction than it might otherwise have had… I’ve almost adjusted to the 10 hour time difference – but it has given me the chance to listen to the ATP World Tour finals during the day rather than into the late evening, which I’d probably have be watching in live in person if I wasn’t so far away, via the wonders of the internet and an iPhone application that appears to overcome the restrictions on listening to Radio 5 Live Extra outside the UK!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Escape to the tropics

Cashing in the American Airlines air miles I'd spent the previous two years collecting – a small part of the 700 billion dollars worth that have been issued by airlines over the years – I travelled a 1/3 of the way round the world to escape the on set of winter in London – which appears to have finally arrived…

I hope it remains a little know secret that for the relatively small number of 125K AA miles, you can get a return first class ticket to anywhere in the USA – which includes Hawaii! Down side is that there are very few seats available at that rate of that longest of long hauls – so you have to book as soon as the system allows – 300 days in advance – and be flexible! If you are careful when you purchase them, you can buy 60K AA miles most years – and closing the gap between what you can buy in two years and 125K for that seat at the front of the plane is relatively easy with a couple of hotel stays…

The front of the an AA triple 7 isn’t the most luxurious of 1st class options – but there is always a reason why one service is less expensive than the others, even if the purchase is in air miles… And it is hard to be that critical when you get a five course meal with accompanying fine wines as the 10+ hours from LHR to LAX allows me to catch up with 3 films as I stretched out on a seat that would go completely flat if needed – I’ll be taking advantage of that on the overnight return journey…

Switching to an internal flight for the 5 1/2 hour fly over the pacific towards a number of dots in the middle of the ocean meant downsizing to a 757 – AA appears to be running some of the original 757s on this route – possibly one of the few places the in flight entertainment is displayed on a CRT rather than an LCD these days! But having left home almost a full day before – chasing the sun round the world, after my third in flight meal of the day served with an engaging aloha spirit – I was soon giving into sleep…

Landing in Honolulu I was meet by a wall of warm humid air in the open walk ways between the gates and the baggage reclaim – reassurance that I’d well and truly escaped the fog, rain and generally miserable weather almost 24 hours travelling behind me….

Friday, November 11, 2011

It all starts with one support act and builds from there…

Linnea Olsson supporting Ane Brun at Scala, London, UK
From Ane Brun 2011
I’d heard Ane Brun supporting Peter Gabrial twice and those small tasters had left me wanting to hear more so I snapped up a ticket to her headline show at Scala

The support came from Linnea Olsson, a member of Ane’s band – but clearly a talented soloist in her own right. Combining her cello cleverly with a pedal board that would have done a few lead guitarist proud she performed a set of nautically themed songs – some very haunting melodies. I feel a chain of wanting to hear more of support acts beginning – Linnea is now on my watch list for future gigs…
Looking at the stage set up it wasn’t entirely clear which genre of music was about to be performed – two large drum kits, two synth/keyboard positions and an electric guitar weren't quite want I’d expected for the folk based sound Ane had opened for Peter Gabrial’s with… Once the music began it became clear the drum kits where the centre of a very well crafted percussion section rather than rock drummers!

Ane took over where Linnea had left off – producing a set of haunting melodies – one of the highlights was Oh Love, with audience participation that was controversially almost as good as the Scots!

Compliments also go to the lighting engineer, managing to add to the atmosphere of the music while not resorting to “lack of light” lighting!

It was a shame that Scala’s dual role as a club and live music venue on a Friday evening meant there was a strict curfew of 10pm to allow time for the Friday night club night to replace Ane’s fans… 
Ane Brun at Scala, London, UK

Set List (Ane Brun – Scala, 11th November 2011):

    • These days
    • One
    • Worship
    • Words
    • Let myself go
    • Puzzle
    • This Voice
    • Oh Love
    • Dirty Windshields
    • Humming one of yours songs
    • What’s happening to with you and him
    • Do you remember
    • Changing of the seasons (1st encore)
    • Balloon Ranger
    • The light from one
    • Undertow (2nd encore)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy

This was an evening of live music only available to 250 people who pre-ordered Pixie Lott's new album, Young Foolish Happy , and lucky enough to win tickets - which may or may not have been everyone who pre-ordered the album, who could also make it to London on misty autumn Wednesday given the number of physical albums actually sold these days...

Angel supporting Pixie Lott at Jazz Cafe
From Pixie Lott 2011 (Jazz Cafe)
Giving those who actually pay for music rewards such as this is a trend I really like and urge all labels and artists to adopt. It encourages people to pay for music rather than pirate it, and keeps the tickets out of the hands of the touts and resellers - no touts at all as the queue formed outside the Jazz Cafe at least an hour before the doors opened!

The evening was opened by Angel, which given the audience was full of the most dedicated Pixie fans, plus one that will go to almost any live music in London, especially in venues that offer good photographic opportunities, was a brave effort - he'd clearly managed to get a few fans on the guest list, and by the end of his set may have gained a few more...
Pixie played a short set – unsurprisingly mainly from the new album. It was unfortunate, given Pixie's mainly younger fan base, that the venue’s license meant it was an 18+ event, as it would have been a perfect location for an early introduction to how good live music can be away for the large venue such as the O2 - which can support an all ages audience, but are just not the same.....

It was a chance for me to hear again the new tracks from Pixie's second album – they benefitted from being stripped back even further than they had been at the HMV Forum for the Q Awards series of gigs… Stevie on the radio again being a highlight with a live standing for Stevie Wonder on the harmonica.
Pixie Lott launching Young Foolish Happy at Jazz Cafe

Set List (Pixie Lott – Jazz Cafe, 9th November 2011)

    • Mama Do
    • Everybody Hurts Sometimes
    • Stevie on the Radio
    • You Win
    • Cry Me Out
    • Young Foolish Happy
    • All About Tonight

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize ‘11

None my own photographs this time, as this was a chance for me to be inspired by images created by others and judge to be the best of their genre captured this year…

Having recently become a member of the National Portrait Gallery, I had the opportunity to attend the members private viewing of the 60 images selected from thousands of entries to have the honour of being hung in the gallery. I viewed the images to the sound track of KT Tunstall’s newly released The Scarlet Tulip EP – a rarity these days – only available at gigs and via the artists own website – a proudly barcode free item, purchased the evening before after KT’s gig at the inspiring Union Chapel.

Having previously enjoy the stunting images selected for exhibition at the Natural History museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, I was left a little flat – all the images where certainly classic portraits – but few had any special qualities to draw the viewer into them – even the five prize winners where “good portraits” rather than stunning images.

Of all the images the one which drew me in and left me wanting to see more was Old Truman Brewery/Claudia, 2011, by Darren Hall – my highly commended would go to a portraits of Keria Knightly by Michael Brit which had a twinkle in her eye, and an image of Malega, Surma Boy by Mario Marino which had an almost 3D quality.