In Search of Classical Greece – Travel Drawings by Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi

It’s 1801, and Napoleon has now occupied Rome for the last five years, preventing you from the well trodden grand tour.  What’s a classically educated young gentleman of means to do? Well if you’re Edward Dodwell, you pick up Simone Pomardi as a companion, skip past the boot and travel onto classical Greece. It’s reality, however, was far removed from the imagined Greek idyll, it’s former city states reduced to ramshackle villages, surrounding and surrounded by ruins of mighty ancient monuments, toppled and worn down by time and the Ottoman heel.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, my thoughts coming away from it were more to do with recording travel and experience. While the camera captures immediate reality, which can be manipulated after the event, I felt I was far more engaged by the paintings than I would have been by the same exhibition had it been more contemporary and consisted of photographs.  Or maybe it was just nostalgia, the landscapes evoking a sparsely populated countryside broken up only by the romanticised ruins, while a camera could capture this, would a painting properly capture the more brutal reality of today, a whole world far more populated and ravaged than nineteenth century Greece?  Perhaps, but even Dodwell and Pomardi’s use of the camera obscura, a mechanical drawing device used for recording architecture more quickly and accurately than freehand, involved them finishing off the picture by hand, giving the picture it’s human touch.  But exactly where did they take their brushes and easels?

Well, the companions began in the western isles of Corfu and Ithaca before moving through the Greek mainland to Athens. Dodwell, his mind seduced by Homer’s tales of Troy, travelled onwards to northern Turkey as well.
Just outside the room is a magnificent panorama of Corfu town, spread across four separate sheets, with details even in the roof tiles and undulating green fields in the distance.
Another multiple sheeted panorama is that from the hill of the muses, where Athens is a small village, nestled almost out of site, under the Acropolis on the far right of the painting.

Both Dodwell and Pomardi have a similar style and they evoke a quiet, sparse landscape, as well as elaborate grotto’s and shrines, you could almost hear the thud of the cattle bell carried by a light breeze as you walked round.
Not all the drawings were complete, Pomardi’s Temple of Olympian Zeus, had rusty looking columns coloured and completed, while the rest is just sketched outlines, drawing the eye in, before it gazes across the unfinished surroundings, would this, for example, work as well in a manipulated photograph?  Others were taken back to Italy and completed there, where locals such as Turkish women, slaves, shepherds or musicians were sometimes added in, almost the exact opposite of photoshopping today, where we take unwanted people out of the picture as they are spoiling view.  In other instances, the inclusion of people, such as the seated man in view through the porch colonnades of the West side of the Partenon by Dodwell, give the drawing a natural portrayal of scale.

At one end of the room is a panorama displayed in a rotunda in the strand in London in 1818.  Giving people the chance to stand in the centre and take in 360 degree views, the completed drawings sometimes took up as much as 900 sq m of canvas.  Also in the exhibition are sketchbooks, pottery and vases and casts from various monuments.

At the end I felt that the paintings offer a much warmer, human depiction of a place, than the full on truth of a photograph.  While exhibitions such as the world press photography awards show just how great photographs are for capturing the unadorned truth, I wonder if that’s what we want from travel pictures.  Ignoring for the moment the inconvenience of lugging around painting materials and keeping completed works safe, a completed drawing of a place surely offers a much more personal experience of your travels than a photograph?  Or does it depend on the person?  Give five people a camera and point them at a scene, you are just as likely to get five different photographs as you would if you gave the same five people paints, paper, brushes and an easel.  As it is, the inconvenience will prevent all but the most dedicated from painting their way round the world, or, if you are like me, so will a complete lack of ability as far as drawing is concerned.

Dodwell and Pomardi, on the other hand, capture a lost Greece, that even in their time had already lost itself.  The companions were lured and enticed by the romantic notions of the Greece of antiquity but still sought to accurately portray the land they travelled, and for that we should be grateful, whether they used a camera or brush.

exhibition details here


Farruquito – Abolengo

I’m a bit late with this one, having seen it last week but sometimes life rushes up on you, blows past and leaves you in it’s wake trying to tidy up the pieces.  Anyhoo, we were back up in the gods of Sadlers Wells for the second Flamenco show of the weekend, Abolengo by Farruquito.  Hailed by the New York Times as ‘one of the greatest Flamenco dancers of the century, Farruquito was a return to Flamenco Puro, compared to Friday nights excursion into Flamenco Ballet.

He did not disappoint. The very image of Latin masculinity in shiny shoes, Farruquito clutched his jacket while his feet skipped and stomped with all the power and pomp of a prize bull.  He flew around the stage, gesturing imperiously to the rapturous audience, again including a healthy dose of Spanish, throughout the show.  Complimented by three male singers, and Encarnita Anillo who drew some of the most enthusiastic clapping of the night when she hitched up her skirts and stamped back to her seat with the lone female dancer, Karime Amaya, who herself was amply on par with the hot footed Farruquito, and I would have to say is probably one of the greatest dancers I have seen in my few years of attending the festival.  She had a number of solos throughout the show, and seemed almost to raise the bar in each one.  The stage was set up with a couple of tables where the singers and guitarist moved between, giving the stage to Farruquito and Amaya to display their virtuoso abilities.

At the end Farruquito gave a halting speech in English, before the vocal Spanish crowd soothed him into his native Spanish, which mean the only words I understood were ‘London’ and ‘heart’, but the crowd seemed to appreciate the sentiment, and me, I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

I got Karima and Encarnita’s names from this much better review by Donald Hutera here

The Flamenco Festival is on until the 27th, details here

James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good)

The scream at the beginning of this song is classic, defining almost a genre as well as the man behind it.  Heard one night on Capital FM, James Brown was, as you can probably guess, my introduction to the world of Funk.
The low driving beat propels the track while the swerving horn takes up the baton from Brown’s lyrics before passing it back all the way through it’s short, punchy 2 and a half minutes, before the theatrical finale.
Later it would be The Boss, Talkin’ Loud, Sayin’ Nothing, or Sunny with Marva Whitney among others that would be my favourites of browns, as well as the classic tracks that were, and still are, a staple of clubs everywhere, but I Got You was the first, and revelatory track that introduced me to hardest working man in show business and a whole genre that would dominate my taste for a good long time after..


Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena !Ay!

Eva Yerbabuena walked alone into the Darkness.  The spotlight highlighting her slow zig zag across the stage while a male singer stalked behind her in the shadows, smartly dressed all in black. Yerbabuena swayed and swung her arms and hands to the strains of a violin. It was the first time I’ve seen Flamenco with a violin.
By the end of the scene her hands had flicked and shaken, had seemingly pulled the notes raw from the violin, even the strings themselves, until it was the instrument that danced to the movement of her fingers.

This year is the 10th Anniversary of the London Flamenco Festival and we rolled up on a wet and windy March evening for the opening night.
As usual I had no clue what was going on, but I never let that detract from the show or the enjoyment.

Yerbabuena’s performance intrigued more than usual, her movements reminding me of a toy ballerina. In a Tim Burton movie. Expressive flicks of her wrists, arms and legs out straight and rigid, flopping onto the table or tilted chair while dressed from head to foot in black sent images of Beetlejuice or Coraline running past my eyes. Seeing her use her hands or arms mimicking the violin or guitar drew most of my attention. In a completely less skilled way when I’m out clubbing, I usually do the same thing to the beats, or keys, and to watch someone actually do it and make it seem as if it was her hands that were drawing the sound out of the instrument, rather than my mostly uncoordinated arm flinging, was fascinating to watch.
But Yerbabuena’s footwork, the footwork was incredible. A relentless trot across the stage, a powerful full pirouette that drew rapturous applause from an audience containing a sizeable Spanish contingent demonstrated that Yerbabuena is a master Flamenco dancer, and that she must have calves of steel.

Complimented by a guitarist, percussionist and three male singers, one of whom had a voice that bellowed Flamenco and sounded like it had been crafted from 50 cigarettes a day and good amount of whisky.

By the end of !Ay! the time seemed to fly as fast as Eva Yerbabuena’s feet, the festival has begun.

Full Program here

bye bye buzzin’ fly

After 10 years Ben Watt is effectively ending his music label buzzin’ fly, as it slides into an ‘archive label’, with some digital anthologies and a few vinyl only hidden gems the only releases to follow.

I found out via an email from my mate on the dance floor Andy, who expressed his sadness at the end of what for us, has been an almost personal label.  It was back in 2003 that I introduced him to buzzin’ fly volume one, my first foray into the deeper side of house.  Up until then a staunch funky house fan, I wanted something more, something that was a touch slower but also more thoughtful.  Buzzin’ Fly volume one included tracks such as Musica Feliz by Rodamaal, Automagic’s Do You Feel? and my favourite of the album, This is Why We Dance by Deep House Soldiers. We religiously bought the five yearly mix CD’s, each mix bookended by spoken word of Bens’ own poetry, and attended some great nights at The End and Plastic People, enjoying along the way Chris Woodward’s brilliant warm up sets, Michel Cleis with his one earphone, and Ben Watt dropping in favourites such as Pop A Cap in Yo Ass and one of my all time dancefloor favourites, Tracey in my Room, but not enjoying so much Sad Piano, a track that seemed a staple of every set and spawned a seemingly million remixes, but that was a matter of taste, and having one track that we didn’t like out of an entire catalogue is not bad going.

Our last buzzin’ night was at the Nest in Dalston, Manoo was the guest and he rocked the whole place, but only after Ben Watt dropped the Andre Loderman remix of Why Does the Wind by Tracey Thorn and Andy sung along at the top of his voice for the entire tune.
A good few years ago, after one night at Plastic People, as Bright Star, his collaboration with Stimming, was fading out,  we asked Ben when the next mix CD was coming out. He didn’t know, they didn’t make money out of them and it wasn’t worth it.  Andy tried again via Facebook to ask about forthcoming nights or a ten year anniversary party, but sadly not, buzzin’ fly will slip into the history books having cemented a friendship and a love of the dancefloor, releasing some great, great tunes and many memorable nights in it’s ten year reign.

Thank you Ben, and buzzin’ fly.

Kokoro [Natsume Soseki]

“What they did to me I shall remember as long as I live. But I have never taken any revenge on them. When I think about it, I have done somethind much worse than that. I have come not only to hate them, but the human race in general. That is quite enough, I think”
Not even words of consolation came to my lips

A young student strikes up a friendship with an older married man he calls Sensei in Tokyo. Despite his warm friendship, the student is unable to coax the reason for the secluded melancholy of Sensei’s life, until it is revealed at an extremely delicate moment of his own.

One of the best novels by one of Japan’s great writers, Kokoro is a sparse look at guilt and loneliness and how they can swallow your very existence.

I found Kokoro a slow burning book and it took me a while to get into it.  Sometimes I felt like there was a wall between me and the two protagonists and I felt I should have been noting certain things which would become key later, but I wasn’t sure which ones.  This is more of a reflection of my lack of understanding Japanese character and culture than anything else, even the basis of the novel, the friendship between the student and Sensei, I found unlikely, yet I do not know if this is a normal occurrence in Japan.

The student mildly annoyed me with the constant dismissal of his family while exalting Sensei, yet at the same time I completely understood him and his desire to break out of the confines of his background and tradition.  The middle section of the book focuses on his family, his own heart, and is very moving, as by this point he has placed Sensei above his own parents, but still cannot ignore the bonds that tie him to his home.

Sensei himself is an aloof enigma through the first half of the book, but who we come to understand as we read his testament.  He realises for him to try and redeem himself he must take the offer of unconditional friendship from this younger man and share his heart with him, and hope he takes it into his own.

While I enjoyed Kokoro I feel that I have missed so much more of it through my lack of cultural understanding, but I am still eyeing up some of Natsume Soseki’s other novels, so perhaps he has found his way into my heart after all.

Erma Franklin – Piece of my Heart

Didn’t I make you feel / Like Yoooooou were the only one … I always recognise the opening of this song instantly, the first step into a lifelong love of classic soul.  A CD compilation called the very best of blues brother soul sister introduced me to soul (my dad had already introduced me to the blues) and this track was my favourite on the double CD.  Erma Franklin wringing out the emotion over the piano led two and half minutes of heart wrenching soul.

It’s also one of my fondest memories from my clubbing days at a club that will be mentioned in a later post.  I had gone one night with a mate who didn’t club that frequently and rather than the usual funk filled set, the DJ was a lot more soulful.  After getting the floor rocking, he dropped this song, the crowd loved it, everyone singing and dancing with smiles on their faces.