Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ART: The use of paint in paintings, by JD

As a follow on from this recent post -, a few thoughts on paints and painting.

This first painting is a copy of Goya's "El Quitasol" which I did more than thirty years ago. I used Winsor & Newton oil paints and, as you can see, the colours are clear and vibrant. It is about A4 size on canvas-textured paper suitable for oil painting. It has been stuck to the wall with blu-tack for the last twenty years!

This is the original by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, in the Prado Museum in Madrid:

Prado weblink:

Wikipedia's copy:

Obviously I am nowhere near as good as Goya but I am pleased with my effort and it is surprising how much you can learn just by copying one of the masters.

As stated previously, real life tends to get in the way and I was drawing and painting intermittently and then, with a bit more spare time, I was able to paint on a regular basis with some expert tutelage to help me along the way.

This time I was using watercolour paints and eventually settled on Van Gogh watercolours in tubes because, once again, it gave me the vibrant colours. (W/colour in tubes can also be applied more thickly, which I like to do now and then) Here's a sample. It is 8" x 6" - most watercolour paintings are small scale, I think the largest pads I have are 15" x 11". If you want to know how I did the highlights on these oranges, it was done with a few dabs of gouache which is basically opaque watercolour paint.

Eventually I started to use acrylic paints as well as continuing with the watercolours. Acrylic is like oil paint but with the pigment bound in plastic (polymer) instead of oil. The advantage is that it is quick drying and the brushes can easily be cleaned in water without too much effort. Quick drying is a disadvantage also in that any paint left on the palette dries and, unlike oils, cannot be revived.

But the colours of acrylic paint are very bright and their introduction commercially in the 1950s brought a lot of new colours including iridescent and pearl and interference colours made by adding powdered mica to create unusual shimmering or reflective visual effects. (In earlier times gold leaf would be used in painting religious icons which, in flickering candlelight, would have produced similar effects.)

I have used mainly Liquitex or Winsor & Newton acrylic paints and here is a sample. It is on 8" x 8" canvas and thanks to Cherie for providing the photograph.

Eventually I came back recently to using oil paint once again. But there was something wrong this time. The colours didn't seem to be as bright as they used to be and mixing colour from the tubes they very quickly lost their sheen, becoming 'muddy' and unsatisfactory. Didn't know why until I was told that manufacturers were saving costs by reducing the amount of pigment and replacing it with some sort of filler, usually magnesium silicate. So I looked at other paints on the market and got hold of some Old Holland oils and these proved to be excellent, saturated colours I think is the right description. These little mini masterpieces are all on 2" x 2" canvases using Old Holland paint.

But Old Holland paints are not available locally and I have given up trying to buy things from the internet. It takes far too long to plough through page after page and getting a sore finger going clickety click. In reality, it is much quicker to use a catalogue and fill in the order form and post it off but the world is mesmerised by the novelty of technology and brains are now redundant. I knew that Michael Harding oil paints were available locally because I had seen them in the shop and, from what I have read and heard, they are reputed to be the best oils on the market endorsed by the likes of David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin.

On YouTube I found some demonstrations of the MH oils; this is the colour amethyst.

Very impressive so I have bought a few tubes of MH paints and have been trying them. They are indeed very good and vibrant colours. I will have to get used to their different characteristics but so far I like them and the first result is here which is also an 8" x 8" canvas -

Just a note on the colours: The background was originally indian yellow and the trees were done in pthalo blue. After a couple of days I decided it wasn't quite right, the yellow was too strong so I covered it with cadmium yellow mixed with titanium white and a wee bit of the indian yellow to give it some warmth. Then I muted the blue of the trees by going over it loosely with pthalo blue mixed with unbleached titanium. Much improved.

Not bad for a first attempt and it is currently being framed after which it will soon be hanging somewhere on my crowded walls.

I'm still learning, this is a never ending process. When I am 100, if I get that far, I might eventually know what I am doing!

Now you are probably wondering why I am so keen on bright, vibrant colours. That's easy, they remind me of heaven! That is not as daft as it sounds because throughout history most if not all religious and spiritual traditions make great use of colour in festivals and often in daily life for exactly the same reason, to remind them of heaven.

In Revelations 21 in the Bible, John describes the new Jerusalem* thus: "And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.... And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."

The whole city is made entirely of precious stones, all glittering in 'the light'.

It is only the puritans of all creeds who want a monochrome world devoid of colour, of decoration, of ornament; all colour and life and joy removed.

*Sackerson notes: also described in the heartbreaking mediaeval poem "Pearl" - see translation here from l. 985 onwards:



Winsor & Newton

Van Gogh watercolour paints

Liquitex paints

Old Holland oil paints

Michael Harding oil paints

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"EU-GB" - a writing challenge

Now that Len Deighton's "SS-GB" alternative history thriller has been screened, I'd like to challenge readers to write an outline for a different alternative history.

Imagine that PM Tony Blair had succeeded in getting the UK to ditch the pound in favour of the Euro; and some years later, the Council of Ministers finally completed its metamorphosis into the Cabinet of a new country called Europe, with a single President as its head, able to issue directives like the US President.

What (plausibly) could you see happening?

You could write it as an extract from a thriller, or as an entry from some future history book or encyclopaedia.

Shall we say, length 400 - 1200 words and a deadline of 29 March 2017 (when Article 50 is set to be triggered)?

Entries submitted as comments to this post, then reposted on 29.03.17 , as a celebration - other than that, copyright remains the writer's. Or put it on your own blog/site and let me know so I can post a link to it.

Like the idea?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Music: "Rule, Britannia!" by Wiggia

A rummage through the archives for British musicians since the forties in modern jazz produces a mixed bag of results. On the home front the list is fairly well spread since that date and encompasses instrumentalists and vocalists. The difficulty comes when reviewing those who made it on the world stage or at least became recognised in the USA , recognition there being the open sesame to world fame if not riches.

Those that made it across the pond are a relatively small band which is not surprising as breaking into a music scene as a jazz musician in the states is never going to be easy when they have so much home grown talent in what has now become a niche market.

George Shearing, Sir George after being knighted at the age of 87 in 2007, was a Battersea-born Londoner. Born blind to working class parents he was the youngest of nine, and he started to play the piano at the age of three. A pub in Lambeth was his first gig and after a relatively short spell he emigrated to the USA in ‘47. Influenced by Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, his style was almost immediately successful and he formed his own group with Buddy de Franco and then formed the George Shearing quintet.

Two hugely successful singles of his own compositions, Lullaby of Birdland and September in the Rain guaranteed a career as performer and composer for the decades to come. He also had more than a passing interest in classical music and performed with several orchestras, along with TV appearances and playing with a long list of of musicians including Mel Torme with whom he won two Grammys, and later toured with Torme in the UK, a true international star and a rarity in the jazz world.

Some of his appearances were somewhat formulaic simply because his status would demand it but he was a true jazz musician at heart with a huge appeal.

Tubby Hayes also cracked it in the states, the most accomplished all round musician we have probably produced in modern jazz, a true multi instrumentalist. He was one of those whom you put an instrument in front of and he just played it, from vibes to flute but best remembered as a tenor sax player to most.

I had the pleasure of seeing Tubby live at the old Ronnie Scotts and at the Manor House pub by the tube station of the same name in north London where jazz artists appeared on many Sunday nights.

He started out with Kenny Baker in ‘51 and soon joined various British big bands of the period including Ambrose, Vic Lewis, Roy Fox , Parnell and then formed his own octet in ‘55. In ‘57 to ‘59 he played as joint leader with Ronnie Scott in the Jazz Couriers, a fondly remembered period; an invitation to play at the Half Note club in NY in ‘61 cemented his credentials over there and he played with many across the pond luminaries and returned again to the states in ‘62, ‘64 and ‘65 when he played at Shelly Manne's Mann-Hole in Los Angeles.

Back in the UK he formed his own big band and appeared on TV in his own series and also appeared in several films as well as being a much sought after session musician.

The sixties heralded a music revolution. Jazz suffered as a consequence and Tubby felt the impact along with many others so he toured abroad as London venues had changed their musical tastes. At this time he was in a rather painful story of drugs, difficult and personal relationships (he was married twice) and there are some anecdotes. A partner of his helped him access drugs.  All created a very muddled and confused last few years, his health rapidly declined and he had breathing problems that stopped all playing at one time. He then had a heart operation that was successful but a second in ‘73 wasn’t and he died in Hammersmith hospital at the age of 38.

Looking back it seems scarcely possible that so much had been put into those brief years. Much of his catalogue went missing and items became rare and collectible. I am fortunate to have a couple in my collection.

Here he is with Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and introduced by Humph in ‘65:

"Humph": Humphrey Lyttleton was a self taught trumpeter and almost everything else throughout his long career as musician, composer, arranger, band leader, TV show host, radio ditto and raconteur extraordinaire and columnist plus; he even designed his own house in Hertfordshire. His privileged background reads like a chapter from Tom Brown's Schooldays and is worth a trip to Wiki for that alone.

He started out in music with a trumpet influenced by Louis Armstrong and his early years were in the blues tradition of traditional jazz, but he moved to mainstream in the sixties and by the end of his playing career could be said to have moved into a gentle form of modern jazz )my interpretation !) so he merits being here.

Above all Humph had style, be it with words or music, and is missed in all the professions he touched.

His personnel changed much over the years and he toured to sell out crowds everywhere. He also introduced Canadian singer Stacey Kent to the UK, Elkie Brooks sang with the band on several occasions and he even toured with Helen Shapiro in the nineties.

A small aside was that he hated telephones, a trait he shared with my late father who would disconnect the wires if he thought anyone was going to call him.

Here he is with Elkie:

Vic Feldman certainly cracked the American jazz scene, this was seen as important at the time as all American jazz artists had an inherently superior status attached to them.

Feldman was a musical prodigy, a young talent who became a world known pianist and percussionist and whose vibe playing became a trade mark despite the fact most people thought he was a better pianist.

Feldman came from a musical family and he played in a trio that had his brothers as the other partners for awhile. He went to work in the USA in ‘55 and on return while at his club Ronnie Scott suggested he emigrate to the USA; he did in ‘57.

He worked with Woody Herman at first and then Buddy de Franco, and then formed his own group on the West Coast that included the talented bassist Scott la Faro who was tragically killed in an auto accident aged 25. He played with various bands and groups including Miles Davis who asked him to join his group full time but Feldman said no, preferring the occupational safety of studio work as opposed to touring.

Settling in LA he specialised in film TV and session work and worked outside the jazz environment with the likes of Frank Zappa and Steely Dan.

Here with Scott la Faro and playing both piano and vibes.

During and after the forties big bands still held sway at the top of the music scene here and in the states, we had several big bands during this period but one stood out head and shoulders above the rest: Ted Heath. A tenor saxophonist himself at an early age he switched to trombone.

He actually started his musical career with his brother and three other musicians busking outside London Bridge station and on local streets. Heath was spotted and asked to join Jack Hylton's band; his lack of experience meant the gig was short lived.

He then played with various bands and rejoined Hylton in the late twenties and then a residence at the Kit Kat club followed, where he was influenced by touring American bands like Dorsey.

In ‘28 he joined Ambrose where he learnt to be a bandleader and his trombone playing developed the style he became famous for. Geraldo's orchestra followed during the war years and during this time a Heath composition “That Lovely Weekend “ was produced and the royalties he received from its success allowed to him to form his own band. It followed the American line-up style and was influenced by Glenn Miller; success followed touring with Lena Horne and backing Ella Fitzgerald. He became a huge hit and had long runs at the London Palladium.

1956 saw Heath make the trip to the states for a tour that was not only a sensation but cemented his standing in the jazz pantheon of great bands.

The 50s were the peak of his fame with a huge recording output and European tours. He carried on through the sixties and was still having chart successes in the states. In ‘64 he collapsed on stage in Cardiff with a cerebral thrombosis and though he recovered it was to all intents the end of his career. He died in ‘69 aged 67.

Here they are playing their version of Lionel Hampton's signature tune “Flying Home”:

John Dankworth did the reverse, playing at an early stage in his career in the States, playing the Newport jazz festival in ‘59, the band performed at the Birdland club in NYC and he shared the stage with Duke Ellington with whom he had a life long association. At this time Cleo Laine became the band's singer and he married her in ‘58. His biography is long and deserves a separate read so a link is the best way to access his history and the legacy he left:

He was also a composer wrote many theme tunes for TV and films including the “Avengers”. This is a video at the end of his career and sadly his life, back playing in the States with Cleo:

There are/were many others who had an influence on the British jazz scene but few who made an international career or impression. There is a flaw in my selection: Humph was never an international success, though he did record in the states with Sydney Bechet in ‘49, but his all round presence in playing, talking about and presenting jazz was a huge part of the music's promotion and for that alone he deserves his place.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Music and more, for St Patrick's Day, by JD

Tonight's music offering is a celebration of all things Irish!

Some Guinness was spilled on the bar-room floor
when the pub was shut for the night.
Out of his hole crept a wee brown mouse
and stood in the pale moonlight.
He lapped up the frothy brew from the floor, 
then back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long you could hear him roar,
'Bring on the goddam cat!'

This is a song written by Dominic Behan who also wrote the more famous McAlpine's Fusiliers. Both songs were inspired by the many thousands of Irishmen who came to the UK in the post war years to help with "Building up and tearing England down"

A long time ago I spent a couple of years working for Wimpey and they did indeed have a lot of Irish working for them and they would all tell me that Wimpey was an acronym for We Import More Paddies Every Year!

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

- James Joyce, 'The Dead'

So far we have had a taste of drinking and singing and dancing and death; another great passion among the Irish is horse racing and at this time of year there is the annual (temporary) emigration to England for the Cheltenham Festival, a week of racing at its best. Irish trainers and jockeys will, once again, win most of the races! Their number one jockey at the moment is Ruby Walsh [ ] and he is such a legend that Christy Moore has written a song about him -

And here is Ruby Walsh's father, Ted Walsh a famous jockey in his day and now a very successful trainer, telling a very funny story about how he met Prince Charles when they both fell at the same fence in a race many years ago-

The Irish...
Be they kings, or poets, or farmers,
They're a people of great worth,
They keep company with the angels,
And bring a bit of heaven here to earth

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Music: A Change Of Pace, by Wiggia

To get away from the obvious superstars of jazz I thought a change of pace was called for, a window of opportunity to show something outside the mainstream, and a chance for different instruments to shine.

Our own Victor Feldman was a vibes player though I preferred him as a pianist, a more than accomplished musician who made the grade in the states and lived there he even was a sideman for Miles Davis, and our other star of the same period multi instrumentalist Tubby Hayes played vibes along with almost anything you threw at him, I will spotlight Hayes on another occasion as being almost certainly our greatest jazz performer, he deserves a bit more than a single showing.

In many ways Lionel Hampton was the leading vibes player in most people's eyes. After forming his own orchestra in 1940 his signature tune “Flying Home” was THE vibraphone classic. As well as the vibraphone Hampton was a pianist drummer and actor and bandleader. They don’t make 'em like that any more.

Anyway the vibes player here is Terry Gibbs. Born in 1924 and still with us, he played with nearly all the big bands of the era: Dorsey, Rich, Goodman, Bellson , Shavers, Woody Herman et al, plus his later big bands in his own name were up there with the best.

Here he is at 87 performing “You Go To My Head”….

Terry Gibbs also gives us another performance, with a now rare chance to see a clarinettist at work, not uncommon in the Goodman era but much less so nowadays, and this one is as good as they get: Buddy De Franco, with a storming rendition of “Air Mail Special” this from the Johnny Carson Show in ‘82 - two for the price of one.

The Hammond organ has really been exploited for its value in blues and all genres of rock to good effect, in jazz much less so, Wild Bill Davis was probably the earliest Hammond player in Jazz and Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith in the sixties, Smith was a huge success and his Blue Note albums sold like rock albums and he deserves a place on here in his own right, but I am going to give you Larry Young who with the Blue Note album Unity featuring Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson tenor sax and Elvin Jones on drums. This album from ‘66 is considered to be Young's finest work; judge for yourself on “Zoltan”:

Stephane Grappelli born in 1908 founded the Hot Club de France in ‘34 with Django Rheinhardt and became a regular into old age on radio and television with his jazz violin. Here he is live in Warsaw in ‘91 playing How High the Moon - he never seemed to lose it, did he !

A more modern exponent of the amplified violin was Billy Bang, here with the haunting “Rainbow Gladiator”. Billy who died in 2011 was another who played to the end. Though the enthusiasm was always there the direction of his music changed and I preferred the earlier work.

When the French Horn is mentioned in a jazz context Julius Watkins is the name that invariably comes up. He made the niche his own with some delightful works, with his sextet here “Garden Delights”. Watkins played with many of jazz's luminaries including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, the list is endless, but his music endures. This number is from his Blue Note album of ‘55.

The harp is not an obvious jazz choice and this lady Dorothy Ashby pioneered its usage, “There's a Small Hotel” from her 1958 Hip Harp album could be treated as a curiosity, but it shouldn’t be, this is the real deal.

Frank Wess was a saxophonist and flutist with the Basie band for many years and despite extensive solo work will be best remembered for his Basie years and indeed on this number, “The Very Thought of You”, the Basie influence can be heard in his own band, but that is hardly a bad thing is it !

There have been other appearances by rare or unusual instruments in a jazz context, all of the nine different saxophones, bass clarinet as used by Ellington’s orchestra at his ‘47 Carnegie Hall concerts, various brass including tuba multi string guitars and others like the odds and ends that Roland Kirk seemed to keep finding and using to good effect. Most were one offs or novelties, even the harmonica found a niche and a good one with Larry Adler. An example where many rarer instruments are included on one album is Woody Shaw's 1978 “Rosewood”, all to great effect as the album won the Downbeat readers poll for the album of the year; on there are flugelhorn, soprano sax, flute, piccolo flute, bass trombone, electric piano , congas and harp, fabulous album and no novelty value, just great music.