Efterklang – or “Black Summer” – at the Lexington, London, 29/03/2013

Efterklang‘s show at the Lexington last Friday night was excellent. I’ve been a fan of the melodic, slightly oddball Danes for a few years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them in a variety of forms.

The first time was in a packed Academy 3 in Manchester. This low-key show was notable for Academy 1 simultaneously playing host to Europe, which caused Efterklang to ask for dead silence at one point in the night, in the hope that the familiar strains of The Final Countdown would seep through the walls…

The next show, some time later, was at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, with the band being joined by various extra performers and an orchestra to help them bring their latest LP Piramida to life. It was a special show – partly for its association with the memory of Lisa agreeing to marry me at another point over the weekend, and partly down to the sit-down-and-take-it-all-in vibe which comes with a classical setting and a venue on the scale of the Bridgewater Hall.

Last Friday’s show was different again, with the band dubbing themselves Black Summer – maybe due to them really only being in London very briefly to open for Foals at the Royal Albert Hall the night before. This temporary moniker was dealt with early on, with singer Casper Clausen wryly explaining that Black Summer were a new band with a penchant for covering songs by some Danish band called Efterklang…

The band looked great – with the core Efterklang trio joined by a female singer, a multi-instrumentalist and singer, and a fantastic drummer – and they sounded even better. I’ve really fallen for Efterklang’s trademark pairing of Casper’s bowtie and bassist Rasmus’ chilled-out, moustachioed smirk. They always look so happy and grateful as they play.

And what an intimate venue in which to see a band like this. The Lexington holds something like 200 people and, although the gig was sold out many weeks in advance, there was room to breathe and Lisa and I were unashamed in our meander to the front in the minutes before the band walked onstage.

The sound was fantastic, and a large-scale lightshow was transformed into the Lexington’s tiny room, lending many tracks a very ethereal, special vibe. One member of the crowd asked the band how this show differed to their previous night’s set at the Royal Albert Hall. Casper struggled for a diplomatic response, simply replying that, “it’s…different.” Later, however, he was quick to gush with praise and gratitude for the crowd helping to make this inaugural Black Summer performance something very special indeed.

Throw in some fun back-and-forths with the crowd, an unplugged, acoustic encore involving percussion with various bottles and glasses, and a mutual showing of respect and love between both crowd and performers, and by all accounts this was a very special show. Lisa and I were honoured to be right down the front lapping it all up.

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A novelist’s thoughts on using a word processor for the first time in 1989

“STILL VERY MUCH LEARNING TO THINK ON THIS MACHINE,” writes novelist Russell Banks, in a stream-of-consciousness piece relating to his 1989 book Affliction.

Banks was getting to grips with using a word processor for the first time, to get the words from his head onto paper. Suddenly having this digital intermediary, and being used to getting his thoughts down with pencil and paper, he writes (types):

Since there is no object, no product on paper emerging as I go, there seems to be no activity. That’s the greatest difference at present.

More reflections of this nature can be found in this recent post on Slate’s The Vault blog – a newish collection of trivia devoted to “historical treasures, oddities and delights.”

One other remark made by Banks that stuck out for me personally was this:

Word processor would be [a] great way to keep a journal, as one would never have to regard the text as such but could keep making entries almost as if on a tape recorder.

An interesting point, and similar to some of those raised by respondents to the survey which formed part of my research for my final-year project which asked how and why people keep diaries and journals.

Lyveden New Bield

One of the great things about being a member of the National Trust (oh yes, Lisa and I both very much feel as though we are that far into our twenties now) is the sheer choice of interesting places to visit.

Our first ‘proper’ visit – the one where we decided to take out a membership – was a very much anticipated trip to Snowshill Manor, home to the eccentric and wonderful Charles Paget Wade.

But our most recent came from me scrolling through their excellent app to find locations not too far away which seemed interesting. And so the app led us to Lyveden New Bield, between Northampton and Peterborough.

The building is situated off a minor country road and remains hidden from view until you’ve bumped and rolled your way along a rough path leading to the National Trust car park. But when it appears it looks most peculiar.

A strong, solid outline of a building standing out on its own in beautiful rural scenery, although seeming not to have windows or a roof – surely a ruin? But no – this is a common misconception.

Although this Elizabethan ‘new build’ has the toothless look of a ruined castle or manor house, Lyveden was in fact never completed, after construction began more than 400 years ago.

And what a remarkable thing it is. Beautiful and very telling of the potential for how it could have been – and yet quite empty and heartbreaking. How rare to find not just a building of this age looking so fresh and sharp in places, but also to find one that was started, never finished – and then never demolished either. Just sat there, all lonely and… weird. But still no less beautiful.

Lyveden cuts a lonely figure perched out there in pristine fields, although it is flanked by a nearby cottage and primitive visitor’s centre (quite literally a shed, although the cottage is being converted into a tea room).

Just over the way is its neighbouring manor house; Lyveden was designed by Sir Thomas Tresham to entertain guests. This primary purpose is evident in the building’s layout. Entrance for 21st century visitors is via a low doorway to the rear – originally for servants.

With no interior floors or features – just holes where floorboards and joists would have sat – it takes a bit of imagination to understand the upper areas. But a handy audio guide does its best to explain the situation of various features of the house, while large recognisable features like fireplaces and doorways stand out.

The scale of the construction is also a bit tricky to get your head around. With no roof to close the space in, visitors are left to crane their necks up at the unusual framing of the sky, which is itself a remarkable feature of the place.

Overall, Lyveden is fascinating from a historical perspective just as much as from an architectural one. The remote rural setting is lovely too, and we were treated to seeing it under a slate-grey sky full of cloud as well as in bright sunlight with blue skies in the space of an hour or so. The mind boggles as to how the place must look in other conditions such as snow or fog.

What a wonderful place. I know we will return.

Meanwhile, having driven us from Milton Keynes to pretty Oundle in Northamptonshire, Lisa, the ever-eager driver, decided that we simply must be closer to the sea than usual…

Despite my apprehension that we must surely in fact be about as far inland as it is possible to get in England, we decided to drive out to the Norfolk coast to see the beach at Hunstanton, overlooking the Wash.

But that’s another story for another blog post, I reckon.

The Railway – new BBC series goes behind the scenes of Britain’s railways

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Starting this Tuesday at 9pm on BBC 2 and BBC HD is The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track. It’s a six-part series that aims to go behind the scenes of the country’s stations, staff and trains. It will obviously heavily feature Network Rail, which owns and operates the railway infrastructure – the track, signals, bridges and tunnels, along with several of the country’s largest stations, like Manchester Piccadilly and King’s Cross.

I’ve been working for Network Rail for more than six months now, and although my lack of knowledge of ‘the railway’ is at times a handicap, I’ve also obviously learnt a hell of a lot about the people and processes that keep it running so smoothly (or not, in some cases). It’s also been an education in where the responsibilities lie in operating a railway. Some things fall under Network Rail’s jurisdiction, whilst others are purely the domain of the train operating companies (TOCs), like Virgin and First.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m hoping I’ll learn a lot from this series – and I hope it will educate a lot of its audience too. Oh, and I expect it will be very entertaining at the same time.

I was a big fan of The Tube, a recent BBC documentary series that went behind the scenes of the London Underground. In fact, I wrote a little post about it on this very blog. This new series is from a different production company, but I’m sure it will tickle me in the same sorts of places. I’m looking forward to it.

 

“How and why to start a journal” – from ‘The Art of Manliness’

I’m not sure how I feel about the overt ‘manliness’ of this website – but much of what they say about writing a diary is true, and good advice.

In studying the lives of great men, I’ve noticed a common trait: they were all consistent journal writers. Now, I’m not saying that their greatness is directly attributable to their journaling. I’m sure Captain Cook would still have been a bad ass even if he hadn’t kept a diary. But I figure, if great men like these thought it was important to keep a journal, maybe I should, too. Heck, if it weren’t for their journals, we probably wouldn’t know much about their great lives and deeds.

It’s interesting to me to read about how people keep diaries and journals – and especially how and why they get started. In fact, it’s a subject I find so interesting that I did my degree’s final year project on the subject, and along the way I asked a bunch of people detailed questions about those very concepts. Remind me to tell you some more about the resulting data and report some time…

Anyway. Along with a lot of the advice and justification behind starting – and keeping – a journal, I actually began to rather like the fact that this stuff was coming from a site which dubs itself The Art of Manliness. Journaling and diary-keeping is often thought of as something girls and women are more likely to do than boys and men. A lot of surveys actually bear out these trends. But there’s no particular reason why this should be the case.

The article is actually nearly four years old but, along with keeping a diary, most of the content is timeless.

Under ‘Why keep a journal’, the article states:

  • Your children and grandchildren will want to read it.
  • It can bring you to your senses.
  • Journaling grants you immortality.

I really like that last one. It rings true with a lot of references I came across in my research into diary-keeping – particularly Philippe Lejeune’s ‘How Do Diaries End?’, which I wrote about at some length in this blog post (and which, cunningly, also wound its way into my final year project).

Thinking of keeping a diary, but need advice on how to do it, or why? Have a look at How and why to start a journal. Especially if you’re a chap. Already keep a diary? It’s still pretty interesting to read some of the points raised in the article.