Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bob Dylan in Blackpool 2013

Blackpool. Not necessarily a town associated with great art or never ending rock tours. But we got a bit of both last month when Bob Dylan’s latest tour-leg trundled in to the seaside Lancashire town. And more about the geographical significance later – keep reading, John Lennon fans!

I used to do a lot of Dylan shows. I do less now for one reason or another - but managed to make it over from Dublin for the final night of three shows in the gorgeous opera house at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. A great venue, and seemingly a great tour, with the biggest surprise of all being that, well, there haven’t really been any surprises! Other than a bizarre blip when he completely changed the set-list in Rome earlier in the tour, Bob has played pretty much the exact same set for this entire tour, which as Dylan watchers will know is very unusual. We are used to him mixing up the medicine night after night, but now? No. Bob has a plan, a grand design.

So, what is this plan? Well, he has designed a very specific new show, centred on Tempest, his most recent album. It is an introspective show, the band is much quieter, gone are the half dozen or so rocking blues-rock-rockabilly numbers you could count on in a Dylan set. It’s almost minimalist, very few solos by any band members, and very suited to the small theatre residencies he’s been doing on this tour. The audience is forced to listen (and they do) and Bob’s voice sits nicely on top of the band’s sympathetic backing. He doesn’t need to strain so much and thus seems to be taking great care with his vocal performance - as if he really cares that he makes the most of what’s left of his vocal chords, and what’s left of his touring years.

Plus - the band have really come in to their own. Despite the ‘ban’ (we presume?) on showiness, we get some really lovely playing - from the acoustic guitar foundations of Stu Kimball, to discreet subtle lines from Charlie Sexton on various old-fashioned electric guitars (often interplaying gently with Bob’s crude but effective piano), quiet brush drumming from George Recile (and slightly louder when required), to a more prominent than before Donnie Herron (fiddle and pedal steel), plus Tony Garnier playing some gorgeous stand-up bass on so many of tonight’s songs, it’s a real treat. And, well mixed, too.

But why though? Why this static quiet set-list all of a sudden? Is it to ‘put off’ the multiple-show fans? Is it to put off the hit-seekers? Is he aiming at a live album? My theory is that he has constructed it as a deliberate piece of work, a tale he wants to tell, with each song playing its part. And he’s happy to come out to the front of stage, sans guitar, to declaim his intent, on about a third of these songs. For the rest of the show, he stands behind his latest instrument, a Steinway baby grand piano, tinkling, dancing, noodling and wheezing away, informing us of his worldview via this strange cross-section of songs from his back pages.

He opens with ‘Things Have Changed’ a statement of intent if ever there was one. Spare, sprightly and one of the nights more up-tempo numbers, Bob’s Oscar-winning song gets everyone’s attention from the get-go. Then he’s quickly in to ‘She Belongs to Me’ a new staccato bass-drum oriented arrangement of the famous 1965 song complete with confident piercing harmonica solos which would remind you of the mid ‘90s, or even the mid ‘60s. There’s not much harmonica tonight, but when it’s there, it’s good, very good. Also there are not many ‘60s songs tonight at all, so if you want well-known songs on this current tour, grab ‘em when you can.

The show is excellently paced, and is still as much an exercise in genres as any previous legs of the never ending tour. We have rock, we have folk, we have country, we have blues, we even have jazz. Mostly centred around Bob’s piano, there are no long epic songs anymore and everything is to the point, nothing out of place.

After the opening brace, and a swampy ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’, we get a major show highlight with the stunning ‘What Good Am I? from 1989’s ‘Oh Mercy’ album. With this song, he seems to be setting up the story of the show, he is literally asking the audience ‘What Good Am I?’, laying out his stall, and then proceeding to answer his own question over the following couple of hours, telling us just how good he actually is, and what he has to say. This performance is one of the best of the night, and it’s great to see him singing it on piano, just like he wrote it. You could hear a pin drop in the room, sheer perfection.

The show is utterly authentic with themes of anger and sadness (just listen to the lyrics of songs like ‘Pay in Blood’, ‘Long & Wasted Years’) and after a modestly rocking ‘Duquesne Whistle’ he changes theme and plays ‘Waiting for You’. In a show full of new songs (seven from the recent album), this is an unusual one to throw in, a rare, even obscure, soundtrack song from about ten years ago, but in a funny way it fits in to the show. Maybe he felt the show needed a country-waltz with some lighter lyrics and this seemed to fit the bill. Then it’s time for a subdued ‘Pay In Blood’ which on the album rocked like angry late 70s Stones, but here is recast as a more brooding bitter piece.

‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is next, receiving its latest re-write, but is a bit of a mumble-fest tonight unfortunately. It’s interesting that this most perfect of songs has received so much tinkering from Bob over the years (usually pretty successful tinkering), while other songs he hardly touches. Another Blood on the Tracks classic ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ also gets a work-out tonight and is much more successful, with Bob giving it a very tender and expressive vocal, a lovely culmination of where he’s been going with this particular song in recent years.

Subsequently, in another new departure, Bob himself makes a departure (!) after closing the somewhat brief 45 minute opening set with a powerful ‘Lovesick’. Hardly the lengthy stuff of Grateful Dead or Springsteen or Leonard Cohen shows. And Bob is not known for having intermissions. But, he’s getting older, and as we know, he has a plan.

And when he comes back after the break, he proceeds with his plan in an even stronger vein. First we get a double dose of blues with the banjo-laden High Water and the Muddy Waters re-write that is Early Roman Kings, both very well done and played either side of that beautiful ‘Simple Twist of Fate’. These are followed by a heart stopping ‘Forgetful Heart’, from the perhaps somewhat forgetful 2009 album ‘Together Through Life’. This song is currently cast as a very slow very quiet violin driven ruminative performance that fully fits in to the night’s proceedings.

We’re now building towards the finish, as he bravely closes off the main set with several slow-ish songs from the new album. Not many artists would do this. The folky ‘Scarlet Town’ is followed by ‘Soon After Midnight’ - Bob’s gorgeous new 50s-esque country-pop ballad, and then, the stunner, the set closer, the finale that is ‘Long & Wasted Years’. It’s many people’s favourite song from the album, and surely most people’s favourite song in the show - he’s out front, declamatory style, almost Chaplinesque (Chaplin himself played in this historic venue almost exactly 100 years earlier, according to a roll of honour in the lobby), giving this bizarre and majestic little song the vocal performance it deserves, to a huge climactic sea of applause and ovation from the crowd. It’s an amazing finish, with terrific lighting - big bright white lighting (most of the set prior to that having been in subdued blues and reds). Bob and band take their now traditional stock-still long quiet bow, staring out in to the audience, seemingly soaking up the adulation. And then, without a word or a gesture, they’re gone.

Back they come then for the traditional two song encore. Due to the new static setlist, we know (or think we know) that it will be ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and ‘Blowin in the Wind’, a concession to the hit-seekers. And sure enough, we get a very pleasing new 2013 arrangement of ‘Watchtower’, this rock-standard which with its 3 chords has stood up to countless covers and arrangements since 1968.

Then, Bob spends what seems like an age before the next song, plinking and plonking on his piano, the band all looking anxious and conferring.

And, before we know it we realise he’s dropped ‘Blowin in the Wind’, wow, can it be? Yes, he’s playing ‘Roll on John’, a world premiere of his song about John Lennon, in a venue just 30 miles up the coast from Liverpool! Very piano-driven, and taking huge care with the vocals, it’s a lovely rendition, and sends the crowds in to paroxysms of pleasure, not just box-ticking (another rarity collected!) but a lovely emotional moment, and making a nice conclusion to this highly unusual rock concert – the final song being a local nod by Bob to a Beatle who has left us, and a man who I imagine still means a lot to everyone in the room.

One more bow, and he’s gone. This time for good. On, then, he goes, to London, and a return visit to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time since he was booed there fifty years ago. Blackpool was but a moment, a fleeting moment amongst many thousands of such Dylan concerts. But, for this audience member, one to treasure.

By Ken Cowley 2013

David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot – an ‘’obituary’’

So, the little grey cells have finally wound down. RIP David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot. ITV’s quarter century love affair with Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective has finally come to an end, and the massive audience who probably took their occasional ‘Sundays with Hercule’ for granted will have to look elsewhere for their cosy kicks.

But was it just cosy drama, or does it mean a bit more to us than that? Christie’s detractors say that she lacks depth and that her characters are perfunctory, and yes, no-one would accuse ITV’s Poirot of mining the depths or darkness of modern Scandinavian style crime-lit. And it’s certainly not Love/Hate! Yet at its best, as per last Sunday night, Agatha Christies Poirot is the type of old fashioned drama which combines perfect period escapism with the classic detective story. Christie may not be recognised as the best crime fiction writer of all time, or even of that early 20th century golden era of crime fiction, but she had the best plots, a light yet engaging style and a peculiarly compelling way of writing about families and human nature. So, while never revered by literary critics, she remains beloved by millions and is the 2nd highest selling fiction author of all time after Shakespeare, with over two billion books sold.

The ITV adaptations have not always been perfect, for example one of the problems of adapting every single book is that some of the short stories are somewhat slight, but they have still been very consistent over the years and never really veered towards the slightly jokey silly style that the same channel has been guilty of recently with Miss Marple. And twenty five years ago, a new period drama on Sunday nights was still ‘event television’, and a shared experience for the viewing public.

But, we’re here to memorialise Poirot, not Marple, and specifically David Suchet’s Poirot. Suchet and Poirot don’t seem to have aged much over the last 25 years, but for this last film, ‘Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case’, the detective is seen as an elderly wheelchair-bound man. And this was the beauty of Suchet’s final unshowy performance, he played it with well-judged pathos, and as the story line is revealed, we see his rage at his own decline and at his inability to prove the guilt of the murderer, a particularly insidious villain in this case. We also see him cling to religion as he grapples with these issues, and the massive moral dilemma that arises for him. Christie had always given us Poirot as a Catholic, but not usually as overtly as in this final case.

Suchet was the latest in a long line of TV and film Poirots, including, most notably, Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney. For a generation though, Suchet is ‘our Poirot’ and with good cause. A combination of the accent, the twinkly eyes and of course the peculiar walk, all made him a very specific Poirot, more likeable than Finney and less hammy than Ustinov. And now that ITV have adapted every single Poirot novel and short story we can trace Suchet’s progress, not to mention his moustaches(!), through the entire oeuvre. It helps of course that Suchet is a genuinely talented actor, particularly on stage as well as the small screen, while Ustinov was a charming but limited character actor and Finney more notable for his big screen work.

The short story adaptations were usually one hour, and the novels two. The earlier novels tended to be the strongest and the most suited to adaptation, for example ‘The ABC Murders’ and ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, which have incredibly tight plotting and twists. The final Poirot book, which we saw on ITV last week, and which is one of her strongest, ‘Curtain’, was actually written in 1940 but Christie deliberately held it back from publication until close to her own death in the mid-1970s. So, even though she initially created Poirot as a retired policeman in the first book (‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ from 1920), she keeps Poirot at around the same age right up until the later 1960s Poirot novels. ITV however, seemed to set all their adaptations in the 1930s. But these inconsistencies don’t really matter. Production values were invariably very good, with many of the films having a strong art deco look, along with excellent scripts by the likes of Kevin Elyot and Anthony Horowitz.

Suchet’s Poirot was not only notable for the lead performance by Suchet. Throughout the decades we saw nicely judged performances from the actors playing Inspector Japp, Miss Lemon and especially Hugh Fraser as Hastings. And of course, ‘Curtain’ is also Hastings’ swansong as much as it is Poirot’s and the warmth, even bromance (?!) and occasional tetchiness between the two old comrades was played out very nicely in the final episode.

So, what then of this man, this detective who has died at the age of (we presume) 80-something? What has he given us? And how will he be remembered? Well, although some may prefer other detectives such as Holmes or Dalgliesh, Poirot gave us the best of Agatha Christie (more or less), he gave us a sense of the importance of both justice and compassion, a belief in the superiority of brain over brawn, and a sense that it’s ok to be slightly ridiculous, eccentric, even pompous.

An obituary usually finishes up with who the person is survived by, but part of the pathos of Poirot is that behind the exciting detective’s life and massive brain power lay a lonely batcherhood existence, so he died as he lived his life - alone. And as his screen life faded away on our televisions last week in this most sympathetic of adaptations, we felt that loneliness. But, on the page, he lives on.

By Ken Cowley November 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ken's Mountain-Run Around Ireland, quick report

This is just a quick report, I'll do a longer post/article in a while. I'll also put up more photos on Facebook. Mainly, now, I want to thank some people, especially everyone who came along to any of the legs of my 9 Day Mountain Run, or helped in some other way, and everyone who has donated so far (I'll put the links to the charity pages at the bottom).

So, here goes (and in no particular order);
Martin, Pat, Ana, Tony, John C, John K, PJ & Crew, Peter, James, Niamh, Des, Zoe, Michael, Justin, Jamie, Carol, Dorothy, Jenny, Steve, Dee, Michael plus his Dundalk Samaritans Crew, Dave, Michele, JuJu Jay, Conor, Noel, Gary, John, Carmel, Dave, Vanessa, Brian C, Helen, Gerry, Brianne, Barbara, Paul Brian W, Donal, Frank, John B, Niall, Eleanor, Rachel (apologies if I've forgotten anyone!)

I truly had an amazing week. Not at all what I expected, in lots of ways. Great support, especially in Leinster. For weather/navigation reasons I switched some of the more remote mountains to Leinster peaks (this was the same week in which a hiker tragically died in Mweelrea mountain in Co Mayo, after going missing for several days), but maintained or exceeded my distance/ascent targets.

In my longer report I'll detail all the peaks I did, but for now here's some quick (approximate) stats;
Total days running = 8 (over 9 days, I took 1 day off)
Total ascent = about 5000 metres
Total km = about 145
Total hours running = 25
Total number of mountain peaks = 21
Weather = mixed!

I'd do a few things differently next time. For example what was I thinking running a full marathon on Day One?? That was a tough day, into the wind all the way too, 6 hours, the final 3 of which were somewhat attritional, a big thanks to everyone who came out and got me through that one (getting soaked to the skin themselves, in to the bargain!) Highlights? The scenery,, the company, some of the best downhills in the business (Galtees, Lug, etc), the time to think, the funny moments - eg whilst temporarily mislocated on the Blackstairs we were offered a lift in a tractor by a sympathetic farmer who plainly thought we were nuts.. But it was all good really, and I'd love to attempt similar feats in the future, and would recommend likewise.

Anyway, I'm delighted at the money raised so far, delighted to have raised a little bit of further noise around the mortgage-crisis and (mortgage-related) mental health issues, not to mention delighted I didn't sustain any injuries, nor even any proper falls really (bit disappointed about that last one!). As well as the support from family, friends, fellow-runners (including some whom I'd never met before), I also appreciate the media support I got, and everyone who 'liked' or 'shared' my Facebook content. But, for now, I'm hanging up my runners. Well, for a week or two anyway..

Finally, the four charities were;
St Vincent de Paul
A Little Lifetime
Tabor Children's Trust

We're getting up towards a thousand euros now, which is fantastic.

You can donate at the following websites, big or small all donations very welcome;
and here is the event page on Facebook for more info;
see also

Thursday, August 8, 2013

'Major Barbara' Abbey Theatre play review, August 2013

First up, well done to the Abbey on all their recent innovative Twitter marketing, including their generous giveaways, of which yours truly was a recipient, getting a nice pair of free 4th row seats for one of the previews.

So, off we trundled to Abbey Street last Friday, myself and herself, with no particular expectations. I'm an admirer of George Bernard Shaw's life, wit, writings and much of his philosophy, but I think I've only ever seen one of his plays before (Pygmalion). I know the Gate theatre did Mrs Warren's Profession earlier this year, but generally his plays haven't really been performed that much here in Shaw's home country over the years. Is that because his worldview didn't chime with that of independent Ireland, or because his work had an Anglo hue to it? I don't really know. What I do know though, is that some of the themes of Major Barbara are still very relevant today, and this was an entertaining thought provoking play from start to finish, expertly produced by the national theatre.

Where to start? There is so much in it! It's a long, complicated play, in 3 Acts (almost 4). A huge amount of dialogue for the cast, and for a preview there were surprisingly few slip-ups, just a few words here and there. And not only is there a lot of dialogue, but the sentences are long and the language ornate, beautiful and slightly old-fashioned, with the wit of Oscar Wilde yet the seriousness of the deeper thinker that was Shaw. So, an impressive performance from the cast. Strongest was probably Eleanor Methven as Lady Britomart, closely followed by impressive newcomer (at this level) Clare Dunne in the title role and bringing a bit of TV and big screen glamour to the Dublin stage, Paul McGann as Mr Undershaft. He's technically very good, but like most of the cast, we could see he was possibly still finding his way in to the role at preview stage, not surprising for what is a fairly difficult play.

The cast, direction and production cleverly brought out both the humour and the themes of the play. What came through most was the theme of charity and how it can be corrupted by big money, particularly big money of dubious origin. We saw the title character wrestle with this time and time again, and the contrasting attitude of her father. I won't spoil the plot of the play, but suffice to say this wrestling for Barbara becomes more and more pronounced as Shaw explores the complicated nature of family, money, inheritance, guilt and the various moralities of war and charity. Much of the humour came from the Lady Britomart character, and the actresses' perfect delivery had a lot to do with this.

Final word goes to the really excellent production. The three different stage set-ups all worked prefectly, especially the classic drawing room set-up and the nice device they use when it switches to the factory.

So, kudos to the Abbey for reviving this thought-provoking play, and even bigger kudos for giving away so many free tickets to the previews. They were much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Glastonbury 2013 - brief TV review

Seeing as Glastonbury on the Beeb is as close as I seem to be getting to any live music action this summer, here’s a few thoughts on this year’s return to action, after Michael Eavis giving the field a break in 2012.

The coverage was the usual matey affair, with the same main 3 presenters doing pieces-to-camera, introducing the acts, interviews and a selection of pre-recorded pieces about artists, the event, the site etc.

Basically I just dipped in and out of the main BBC2 coverage catching bits and pieces of the acts I wanted to see, plus the occasional longer set on BBCs 3 and 4, and caught a few extra songs on YouTube.

Obvious highlight? Well, I do quite like the Rolling Stones so like most people I was eager to see would they deliver.
And they did! I have one or two quibbles with the modern-day Stones, but I can put these quibbles all aside as far as this performance went. It was a very well judged setlist and effort by the whole band. Firstly I like the fact that this tour has slightly less backing musicians than previous tours, it has 2 actually quite decent new songs in the set, AND they didn’t bother with any bells/whistles/fireworks at the Glastonbury show – just focusing on the music, plus of course with Mick Taylor guesting on 2 or 3 songs, as he has done on the whole tour. And he really shows his chops! He’s certainly a somewhat more naturally gifted player than Ronnie Wood or Keith Richards, notwithstanding Wood/Richards on a good night do gel well together themselves. Anyway, really great to finally see him back in the band and at his best playing on 2 or 3 very strong songs (would be good to see more of him tho) in a proper televised setting (rather than the audience YouTubes from the US tour)

And ok, so the Stones are maybe not as dangerous, relevant or cutting edge as 40 years ago, but really these days, who is?
This was entertainment, but entertainment of the highest quality. Jagger in particular, owned the stage and had a superb night. Set highlight for me (out of the televised part) was ‘Midnight Rambler’ but it was all good really.

The first night’s headliners Arctic Monkeys were quite good. I’ve seen them live before myself, but that was back in the earlier days, they seem to have turned in to a different band altogether now, but still very good. Alex Turner still has the arrogance and presence to command a big crowd and they went down pretty well.

Mumford and Sons on the final night were also ok. Perhaps these days people expect a big ‘Rock’ type headliner, but Glastonbury does have folk-rock roots and these guys definitely have their particular (big) audience. I saw them at Hop Farm a few years ago, and thousands of people were singing along to every word. Personally I find their songs a bit repetitive, but each to their own, and hey, it was a passable Beatles sing-a-long at the end!

Some other artists I enjoyed – Elvis Costello is as good as ever, Chic and Nile Rogers gave us some pop/funk/r’n'b, The Strypes showed us why they’re the future (or possibly the past?!) with a classic twist on the sound and look of all those London bands from 50 years ago, and Kenny Rogers sounding (if not looking?!) just like he always has, ie very mainstream country music but with a good stage presence for the traditional Sunday oldies-slot, and who can deny he has some catchy and familiar songs for a cheery sunny Glastonbury afternoon!

Anyway, a good festival it seems again, and well done to the BBC on their competent and exhaustive coverage – but I’ll end with a short rant – how about showing more of the Download Festival next year guys?! Metal is almost as popular as any other genre, and Download draws huge crowds, but BBC4 only showed a measly 2 songs of Iron Maiden’s storming headlining slot. Ah well..

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Eric Clapton review, 02 Arena, Dublin 9 May 2013

I was delighted to receive a complimentary ticket to Eric Clapton's Dublin show (a big thanks to the person who gave it to me!), and perched in excellent seats just behind the short flat part of the floor,settled in to watch Eric and his band stroll on to stage promptly at 8.30pm on this, the opening night of their European tour.

I'm not an out-and-out Clapton fanatic, but have always liked his fluid perfect blues style as well as his songs, voice and bands, so was really looking forward to this gig, which was pretty much the first major concert I've been to in nearly a year.

For the first two songs Eric was on acoustic and allowing the band to kick out and find it's feet, starting with a gentle 'Hello Old Friend' sweetened by some country pedal-steel guitar from Greg Leisz. Next up was 'My Father's Eyes' not a great song, but given a nice reggae tinge in this arrangement and a catchy number for Eric to build up the concert a little before finally strapping on his electric guitar (a black Strat) for 3rd song 'Tell the Truth'. Even now, Eric seemed content to let his 2nd guitar player Doyle Bramhell take the early leads, but in the latter part of the song he finally peeled off a classic solo of his own. Now we really knew we were at an Eric Clapton concert!

I should say that the sound in the room was absolutely perfect, incredibly well mixed, and Eric's band really deserve all their plaudits, including the 2 female backing vocalists who added a lot but were never intrusive. Eric seems in excellent shape as he approaches 70, and his voice is as good as his guitar chops (I've always felt Clapton's voice is very underrated, as is the case with two other guitar heroes of his era, Hendrix and Rory Gallagher).

The 4th song I wasn't familiar with, 'Gotta Get Over' according to the EC fan sites, and had some lovely complicated riffing going on in it. Then we had 'Black Cat Bone' a snappy blues with wonderful playing from the pedal-steel guy, now switched to lap-steel. 'Got to Get Better' was a great funky work-out with Eric and Steve Jordan on drums both very prominent. 'Come Rain or Come Shine' was the closest we'd had yet to a mid tempo tune, gorgeous song, with Eric and Paul Carrack (piano and vocals, and a good singer he is too, a bit like Dr John) trading verses.

Then we had the biggest 'hit' played so far, 'Badge' getting a big roar of recognition from the capacity crowd, and very well played it was too. This closed the first electric set, a quick change of set up, and Eric sets to a few songs seated, and with a stripped down band, playing what looked like a gorgeous enormous red Grelsch. The first song was 'Drifting' with nice fingerpicking from the main man and organ solo from Carrack, followed by a song from the new album I think, preceding a gentle 'Layla', done a la the Unplugged album but with a bit more swing. Chris Stainton got to play a nice keyboard solo on it.

Next up was the first of a few Robert Johnson related songs which Eric has been featuring in recent legs of his tour. And perhaps there was some extra significance to the Johnson songs, as yesterday would have been his 102nd birthday! 'Stones in my Passway' has a Crossroads-esque riff, with some stunning tempo-switches, something I always like in a blues song. Then Paul Carrack got to sing one, prior to Eric taking up the mic again with a somewhat throwaway shuffle-tpye arrangement of 'Lay Down Sally'. The stripped-down set then draws to a close with one of Eric's biggest hits, a faithful rendition of 'Wonderful Tonight' nicely done, and with Doyle Bramhall playing the famous guitar solo.

Back to electric, kicking off with a song called 'Blues Power', a kind of old fashioned R'n'B song, prior to 'Love in Vain' bringing the ghost of Robert Johnson nicely to life again on this chilly Dublin summer's evening. Excellently done, in a more brisk arrangement than the famous Rolling Stones version, and then kicking straight in to 'Crossroads' a major highlight of the night, finishing up as it does these days with Clapton and Bramhall tossing solos at each other almost casually, but always solos of stunning quality.

Coming close now to the end of the show, they played 'Queen of Spades' probably the most long slow traditional blues of the night, and again of the highest quality. Truly wonderful band playing. I think I've mentioned most of them by now, but a quick mention of the rhythm section wouldn't go astray, with Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Jordan on drums having a huge impact on how this 'big-ish but tight' band gels, rocks and moves, providing the ultimate platform for Mr Clapton to do his thing. Last but not least then, the closing song of the night was a superb 'Cocaine', bringing the crowd to it's feet and a big ovation for all the musicians as they leave the stage after two hours of classic blues based music.

Eric wasn't done though, and back out they came for a 2 song 15-minute encore, first a true-to-life rendition of the Cream classic 'Sunshine of your Love' again with Paul Carrack getting to share vocal verses, before closing with 'High Time we Went', not a song I know well, but a decent closing number.

So, off we went in to the night, truly sated with a show that had virtually everything that music can offer, exemplary musicianship/songs/singing, great sound in what is a very good venue for such a big room, and of course for anyone who likes guitar, it has never ever gotten much better than this, Eric Clapton himself - still very close to the top of his game after 50 years on the road. If he's playing your town, go! 9/10.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Review of 2012

2012 was a ropey old year really in many ways! So let’s get the negatives out of the way quickly, in a couple of sentences! Ireland is still in bad shape. But it’s still not Haiti. I still have mortgage issues, financial issues and negative equity, but I’m still eating well! I’ve covered Ireland’s economic woes and some of my suggestions re same (plus content re my mortgage campaign) in my e-book, ( and in a recent blog about the Budget ( ), so I won’t rehash any of that here. However suffice to say that in this bankrupt little country (where we pay our leader considerably more than Barack Obama) we have not in any significant way challenged the inequalities, injustices and mounting poverty issues which face the country. We have a long way to to, green shoots or no..

But it IS great to see any green shoots (of recovery), and I am genuinely feeling positive for myself and for others about 2013. We’ll have to do most of it ourselves though. I’ve given up on governments (or banks, or any other branches of Official Ireland) to show much wit or innovation, or even any basic human consideration.

So, moving on from that, instead of my usual list-based review of the year (films, concerts, albums) I’m going to do it a little differently this year, and just touch (briefly!) on things I enjoyed and some (!) of the things I got up to during the year. The main reason being, in 2012 I went to very few films, plays and concerts, and bought very few albums.

But, there was lots of good stuff..

Firstly, I did quite a bit of running. Lots of regular IMRA mountain races and some longer distance races such as the Art O’Neill Challenge and the Mournes 7-7s, both of which went quite well, arm injury in the Mournes notwithstanding. The Art O’Neill is an incredible event (I reviewed it thoroughly on my blog at the time) and I must have forgotten all about the pain of the closing 10-20km last year (it’s a 55km overnight winter-time mountain ultra-marathon), as I seem to have entered it again! It’s on next week (11&12 Jan) and hopefully I’ve done enough training to get through it again. Aiming to beat last year’s 9.5 hours!

One other activity I’ve been trying recently is Bikram Yoga down at the Harold’s Cross studio ( ), I’ve just done one month of it (introductory offer) and am already finding the benefits to be quite significant. It’s early days though, so I won’t go in to too much detail yet, but here’s a sample of benefits I’m feeling already – quicker recovery from long training runs, legs and knees considerably less creaky, better flexibility, better sleep, lower blood pressure, a little bit of weight loss and improved muscle tone, improved headaches and some quite remarkable overall post-class relaxation and general well-being! I’ll report back further on this in future blog entries.

Career wise, it’s been an interesting year. I won’t go in to much detail on this, but things are going in a good direction and I have some plans already in place for 2013 which I can’t wait to get stuck in to. Like many people in Ireland I’m working on making my way out of the mess of the economic collapse and my bad (!) timing in buying my first home (2006), but even more importantly, I’ve made a lot of progress at coping with the stress. Solutions have included – the support of friends and family, meditation/yoga, running, talking to people, and of course the support of one person in particular. She wouldn’t want me to name her, but 2012 would have meant very little without her!

Anyway, to the nuts and bolts of some of the things I enjoyed this year.

Sports wise, I very much enjoyed the Olympics – the sport, the tv coverage, and also the excellent opening ceremony. Nice to see our neighbours put on a good event, and lets not begrudge them all their medals (!), plus it was nice to see a few Irish medals as well. Earlier in the year Leinster won another big one in rugby and later Andy Murray got the major monkey off his back, Fionnuala Britton (who did an IMRA race this year!) winning cross country titles was great to see, but most of all I enjoyed seeing Rory McIlroy step up to the plate and become the greatest golfer in the world.

Of my few concerts this year, they were all contenders for my favourite. Topping the bill as joint winners though would be Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen, both in Dublin. I chose well, going to just one night of each artist’s run, getting a particularly excellent setlist at Bruce’s show on the Wednesday. (I have already reviewed these shows in detail earlier in the year, if you want to delve back). Leonard’s shows are as special as ever - there’ll come a day when we’ll look back very fondly at this short golden on-stage period for the aging bard, but for now we should just savour it. Bruce tours all the time of course and 2012 was just about the best form I’ve ever seen him in, him and the expanded E-Street Band. With more to come in 2013! I saw one excellent Dylan show in 2013 in the summer (thanks Jim!), but it was a pity he ignored his new album so much in the Fall. But news of a band shake-up may lead to more sprightly setlists (we hope!) in 2013. I also saw at least one very good Waterboys show and a solid Wilco set (both outdoors). Oh, and Tom Petty was great too, in the o2. Hidden gem of the year was a great little blues gig in JJs pub in Dublin just last Saturday night with unbelievably good quality musicianship by a band called the Gerry Hendrick Band featuring PJ Salmon. And only a tenner in! Surreal moment of the year was standing halfway back at the Waterboys (was too bloody loud up the front) and realising none other than Bruce Springsteen was standing a little bit to my right, in the middle of the crowd!

I saw hardly anything in the cinema, and most of what I did see was mainstream. I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m definitely going to see more films in 2013, LESS blockbusters, plus catch up on the good 'uns I missed last year, both on dvd AND on my ever-overflowing digital tv box! The Hobbit was much better than the reviews suggested – it was lovely to be plunged back in to Middle Earth again, with nice leisurely story-telling, excellent casting and special effects which are a notch-up from the Lord of the Rings. But, forget about this 54 frame rate lark (it made it look like a documentary) and forget 3D, this film looks WAY better in regular old 2D. Skyfall was the best Bond movie since, well the one before the last one, but Batman and Marvel’s Avengers were both a bit disappointing. John Carter was quite good, underrated. Shame was grim, The Help was excellent and A Dangerous Method was an interesting piece which didn't quite work. I saw one film in the French film festival, a great little nugget called Fermatt’s Room, which I think was not a 2012 release, though. I can only remember one other film this year, Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, which continues his slight return to form. So, a bad year for going to the cinema (I urgently want to catch up with highly recommended films like Amour and The Master), so I’m going to cheat slightly and name The Artist as my film of the year, given that in Ireland it was released in 2012 and I saw it sometime that January. Best film I saw all year, by a mile.

I only saw, jeez, one play?! Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance at the Gate theatre. Good fun. But not enough – next year I’d like to see more.

I didn’t buy a lot of albums either, but dipped in to many. And it was quite a good year. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan’s Tempest tops my list. One of his best latter-day albums, and a delight for the ears if you like pre-Rock American music played by experts and sung by what is still one of the most expressive voices (despite the ever increasing rasp) in the business. Other artists/albums I’ve enjoyed listening to this year included (and this is NOT a definitive list); Wrecking Ball (a career highlight from The Boss), Old Ideas (a grower of a late-addition to the Leonard canon), Neil Young (Americana was a dud, but the Crazy Horse album was a stormer), Natalie Duncan (it’s a good era for female singers, she’s the one who springs to mind the most, great voice and piano!), The Strypes, Alt-J, Hudson Taylor, Jack White, Dexys, Black Keys and Bill Fay. Paul McCartney had quite a good year, with some good live shows apparently, a great re-issue of his ‘Ram’ album, a surprisingly good and understated standards album, then veering dangerously in to ‘over-exposure territory’ at all those ‘big-moment’ summer concerts in London, but rescuing things in fine style with his ‘Nirvana-moment’ last month – check out the YouTube of him and Dave and Krist doing their new song, Cut me Some Slack, at the Concert for Sandy event. And speaking of the Fabs (weren’t we?!), I’m still reeling from (and enjoying) the mono and stereo CD box-sets of the entire Beatles catalogue back in 2009, plus funds were tight so I didn’t shell out 300 quid for the deluxe box of re-issued 2012 LP editions. I would be interested to hear them though, and see how they compare to my original Beatles vinyls and the remastered CDs.

It was a disappointing year for Art in Dublin, with nothing really happening in the National Gallery (half of it is still closed) other than a mindless attack by a lunatic on one of our Monets! And because I travelled so little, I saw very few exhibitions.

Some books I read included Keith Richard’s Life, The Mitfords – a Biography, more of PD James’ back catalogue and other crime/period novels, re-reads, plus other books about music, running, motivation etc. I’m working on curbing my addiction to newspapers and running/music magazine (!), AND I got a nice present of an e-reader for Christmas, so way more reading to come in 2013!

The art-form (?!) I partook of the most this year however was probably, ahem, TV. BUT, if you took the time to look, there was lots of quality and/or entertaining programmes to check out. I saw season one of Game of Thrones (incredible standard of TV fantasy drama), season two of Homeland (disappointing), season three of Downton Abbey (a slight improvement on season two, it’s still fun but not to be taken very seriously), lots of good music docs (and history docs etc) on the likes of Sky Arts and BBC4, Parades End (a bit ponderous, but overall a thought-provoking and enjoyable adaptation), Bletchley Circle, the Late Late Show (well, the episode I was on, that is..!) and Gran Hotel (lush, melodramatic but enjoyable Spanish period drama). Comedy wise, I’ve been checking out things like The Big Bang Theory (quite good), Modern Family, Happy Endings, and the preponderance of stand-up comedy now on TV. But, for my programme of the year, here it is - in the nick of time (note - given that I’ve not seen the 2012 season two of Game of Thrones yet, THAT programme doesn’t qualify) I’m plumping for a Victorian London cop drama which only started two days ago (first of 8 episodes) called Ripper Street. It's very good so far (be warned, it’s quite violent), and given that it was shot in Ireland, over here we have the extra pleasure of trying to spot the locations! I’ve also watched quite a bit of current affairs and news this year, and given the scandals at the BBC and even RTE, am taking what I see/hear with a bigger pinch of salt than usual – it’s been a tough year for people in Ireland, UK, US and Europe, and even worse elsewhere, so now more than ever we need good journalists, good reporting and good analysis. Let’s hope we get it in 2013.

My own main priorities for 2013 are career, health and making time to relax a bit more. Sports wise I need to firstly get through the Art O’Neill ultra, and then consider other challenges, perhaps the Wicklow Way Ultra in the Spring, with an adventure race or two (and/or a triathlon) in the summer, and more running, golf and yoga.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support this year, especially anyone who bought the book (!) and wish everyone the best for a better year to come. My sympathies to those who lost people last year, or who have bad health, traumas or recession-related problems, and congratulations to lots of people close to me who had happy events – it was a great year for weddings etc! Feel free to keep an eye on my websites and blogs for new developments and writing in 2013, and keep in touch.

Happy New Year! (my book)

copyright Ken Cowley 2012