The Allen Family at the Belgian Café

IMG_9628I chanced upon local bluegrass band The Allen Family in Ramsgate’s Belgian Café and was immediately captivated. These are first class musicians and I was especially taken with young (15 years) Geary Allen’s banjo work, which is sensitive and technically accomplished. Their music is not strictly confined to bluegrass and they confidently convey the authentic working roots of American country music. Another unexpected great night out in Ramsgate.IMG_2672

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Howard Hodgkin at the Updown Gallery

IMG_0561The Updown Gallery in Ramsgate is currently hosting In an Empty Room, an exhibition of prints by Howard Hodgkin. This is a stunning collection with works covering a span of sixty years or so and ranging in size from small to huge. There is also a lot of variety in form and colour but the show maintains a consistent sense of the artist.

 

 

IMG_0565The gallery itself, which used to house a local computer business, has been transformed into a terrific space for viewing art and the friendly owners are keen to share their passion for it.

 

 

 

Also on view are pieces from local artists and upcoming exhibitions:

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In an Empty Room is on until 11th May

The TiN-0-SiZeR

TiN-0-SiZeRI recently came across these strange and beautiful hand-made musical instruments on Etsy. I find it inspiring that all those people are putting their time and talent into such creative ways of making new sounds. And so I was inspired to make my own and here it is, dubbed the TiN-0-SiZeR.

 

 

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The body is a sweet tin left over after Christmas. The most important step was to spray it black, without which it simply wouldn’t be hovercraft music. I drilled holes in the lid and fixed longish bolts in them so I could stretch the springs between them. Lastly I glued a piezo-electric transducer under the lid and connected it to a 1/4″ jack.

 

 

The instrument produces a good sound level and can be connected directly to a mixer input. There are lots of ways of playing it: you can hit the body or the springs by hand or with chopsticks, you can pluck or scrape the springs, but my favourite is to bow them using an ordinary cheap violin bow – but don’t use your best bow because the springs do a lot of damage to it. Finally, it sounds a bit like this (with some added delay and reverb):

The Buescher True-Tone

IMGP1273Here is my beautiful Buescher True-Tone alto saxophone. After many years of shameful neglect it has recently been completely overhauled by the lovely people at Crowthers of Canterbury. They took over two weeks and gave me back a transformed instrument – to the extent that I had to spend a while getting to know it again. But it’s a pleasure to play now and even the tone is subtly improved.

Buescher was a US saxophone manufacturer. There are plenty of web sites that cover its interesting history so I won’t repeat it here. Some of those sites also carry the company’s records of serial numbers by year so it was possible to find out that mine was manufactured in 1926, much earlier than I had expected. The instruments they produced have an excellent reputation, having a very good tone although a tendency to sharpness in the upper register. This one came into my possession in the mid 1970’s, I believe from a stint in the BBC Light Orchestra but I have no knowledge of its earlier history. It is intriguing to speculate what adventures it may have had along the way. The somewhat dilapidated state of the case, on the outside at any rate, suggests that it very well may be the original.

The True-Tone can be heard on several of the tracks we are working on for our forthcoming album – watch out for clips coming to this blog soon.

Ramsgate International Hoverport

On a freezing, grey February morning, the derelict Ramsgate International Hoverport is particularly bleak and atmospheric. A salutary reminder of the hubris of the era of the white heat of technology, this massive concrete construction was thrust into what is now a National Nature Reserve, recognizing its importance for waders, wildfowl and sea shore flora. In the 1970’s mighty SR.N4 hovercraft roared into and out of the port, carrying cars and passengers to and from Calais. The terminal and other buildings have been removed but there seems to be no sign of any attempt to return the site to nature or any kind of remediation, although I understand that during the construction of the Thanet Wind Farm, Vattenfall paid for work to stop tar leeching into the sea from the hoverport.

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The General Assembly

This Australian band is making some interesting music and I recommend their EP Dark Mountain Music, inspired in part by the Dark Mountain Project, an artistic response to the troubles of our times.

Dark Mountain Music carries the darkness of folk tales in its words and atmosphere. The songs are richly textured with strong melodies and rhythms that grab the attention. The five tracks on the EP have a nice balance of consistency and variety and while the tone of the music is dark the tunes are catchy and even foot-tapping.

The Dark Mountain Project is interesting too; while it is a response in particular to overwhelming environmental problems it is a considered one that stands outside the usual environmentalist positions, thanks no doubt to the leadership of thoughtful and articulate writer Paul Kingsnorth who is well worth following on Twitter as @paulkingsnorth (although there seems to be a contradiction between his stated position and actually having a Twitter account).