The South Bank Show . . . .

Sunday 8th September 2013

(As always, feel free to click on any image to view a hi-res version or slideshow)

Starting at Brent Cross, A trip down the Northern Line (which was unusually busy today) brought us to Embankment, a regular starting-point for our walks around the Capital.

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station

 After a quick caffeine boost whilst sat outside Costa, during which I spotted an absolutely huge rat scuttling between rubbish bins, We made our way over to the South Bank, via the Jubilee footbridge.

Embankment, From Jubilee Footbridge

Embankment, From Jubilee Footbridge

First things first once we were on the South side of the river – BEANOTOWN ! ! This exhibition of original artwork, memorabilia and fun stuff, all concerning the Beano comic, was something I’d been looking forward to seeing – last time we were in the vicinity it was later in the day and the exhibition had closed. I loved reading the Beano as a kid and wandering around looking at the marvellous collection of front covers and original artwork made me feel 7 years old again. The Beano Les Paul guitar, based on the front cover of the John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers Album, was also nice to see.

Afterwards, wandering around the vicinity, we discovered a bunch of market stalls selling a wide range of street foods. Much time was spend sampling a variety of delicacies, including salami, chorizo, crepes, Turkish wraps and my personal favourite – spicy Cajun Chicken with rice – delicious ! !

After all that food a good walk was required, to burn off a few calories, so we threaded our way back towards the Royal Festival Hall and headed off downstream. Along the way we passed numerous stalls selling books, clothing, makeup, perfumes and of course food. There was no shortage of street entertainment either, from the usual skateboarders, dancers and musicians to the unusual things such as a man blowing large and intricate soap bubbles, a headless couple with brollies, and a man playing a flame-throwing tuba ! !

Arriving at the Millennium Footbridge we stopped to fire off the now customary “Tourists walking across the bridge with St. Pauls in the background” shots :

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

Millennium Footbridge

That done, we then crossed over said bridge onto the North bank of The Thames, stopping midway to photograph The Shard and The “Walkie-Talkie”, or “The Killer Tower Block Of Old London Town”, as I’ve dubbed it . . . .

Millennium Bridge Panorama

Millennium Bridge Panorama

The Shard In Evening Sun

The Shard In Evening Sun

St. Pauls Cathedral

St. Pauls Cathedral From Millennium Footbridge

The sun was setting by now (Autumn is well under way….) and it was getting rather chilly, so after stopping off for a drink at the Blackfriar pub we took the Circle line from Blackfriars to Embankment, where I had chance to capture a few images of the warren of tunnels as we waited for our train. I was particularly pleased with the Mono images – the low, dingy light levels in the tunnels of the Underground seem to lend themselves well to monochrome :

Embankment Tube Station Steps

Embankment Tube Station Steps

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Tunnel

Embankment Tube Station Platform

Embankment Tube Station Platform

Embankment Tube Station Platform Sign

Embankment Tube Station Platform Sign

Once we were sat on the train we thought our photography for the day was over. Not so – we were informed by the driver via Tannoy that the train was terminating at Golders Green. No problem – we’d hop off at Chalk Farm and hop on the next train, 10 minutes behind. Chalk Farm station was very quiet and I managed to capture a few more Mono images :

Train Leaving Chalk Farm...

Train Leaving Chalk Farm…

Train Leaving Chalk Farm...

Train Leaving Chalk Farm…

I was particularly pleased with these images also – the graininess caused by having to set the camera to high ISO seemed to enhance the photographs, whereas in colour it would look ugly, possibly ruining the shots. As our train pulled alongside the platform I fired off a couple more shots – the obligatory “Station Sign” shot and a Mirror selfie.

Chalk Farm Sign

Chalk Farm Sign

Self Portrait, Chalk Farm

Self Portrait, Chalk Farm

Then we boarded, looking forward to reaching Brent Cross, where the car was waiting to carry us home for a well-earned supper of Chorizo & Mozzarella wraps, and leftover pasta from last night – Yum Yum ……

Brent Cross Underground Sign

Brent Cross Underground Sign

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In The Secret Garden ….

Monday 9th September 2013

(As always please feel free to click on any image to view at higher resolution in Flickr)

My train pulled into New Street station at 16:10 today. The sun was still showing its face in between showers and I wasn’t pushed for time, so I decided to take a walk to the new Library Of Birmingham. I’ve seen the building from the outside a few times and have to admit it looks a little tacky to my eyes, but thats personal taste. Stepping over the threshold into the library I was surprised at how spacious the interior appeared – a little TOO spacious to me, almost as if the owners hadn’t got enough bookshelves & furniture to fill the place and had spread everything out a little too much. But whatever – I’ll take a more leisurely walk around one another occasion – today I was interested in capturing images from the rooftop garden. So upwards I went, admiring the views from the windows as I gained height….

BT Tower from the Library Of Birmingham

BT Tower from floor 5 of the Library ….

A few escalators and 90 odd stairs later I was on the rooftop “secret garden”, admiring the surprisingly extensive views out over the surrounding suburbs and countryside.

The Cube from the Library of Birmingham ...

Composite HDR image of The Cube & The Hyatt hotel….

Looking North From The Library Of Birmingham...

Looking North – Barr Beacon can be seen on the horizon, left ….

Looking towards the Cube from the Library of Birmingham ...

The Cube and the Hyatt hotel….

I also managed to take enough side-by-side shots to enable me to play with the image-stitching software on my Macbook and create panoramic images. It wasn’t possible to capture suitable images when facing Westward, as the sun was very low in the sky, but I’m hoping to make my next visit earlier in the day to remedy this. I heartily recommend clicking on these images to view them at full size and resolution in Flickr, but please be aware that the images are VERY large …..

Looking NW-SE

Looking NW-SE …. On the horizon, far left, can be seen the WBA football stadium, and on the far right is the nearby Alpha Tower . .
Click to view the full size image (16412 x 2518 pixels)

Looking North-East.

Looking North-East. The BT Tower and The Rotunda are clearly visible ….
Click to view the full size image (10377 x 2584 pixels)

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Last Day Of Summer : Blue Skies Over Rushall Canal

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The Wizard of Oz – Randy Rhoads (1956-1982)

Saturday 31st August 2013

Randy Rhoads in 1981

After writing about Steve Marriott a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed doing immensely, I knew that I’d have to do a similar thing on the subject of Randy Rhoads. I’ve been playing guitar since the late 1970’s. I don’t rate myself as anything more than average, but I’ve always had a handful of heroes – guitarists who I love to hear play, and who’s playing I clumsily attempt to emulate, in my ham-fisted way. The names of these guys can vary, depending on what I’m listening to at the time, but a few players are up there constantly – Jimmy Page, Brian May, Les Paul, Yngwie Malmsteen, and sitting up there at #1 in my list – the late, great Randy Rhoads.

This tiny guy (he stood at barely 5 feet tall) only had a short career before his death in a light airplane crash robbed the world of his talent, and he isn’t very well known today outside the guitar playing fraternity, but his playing was a huge influence on my 6-string efforts, and on the guitar work of millions of others. He left us precious little – 2 albums with Quiet Riot and 3 (one of them posthumous) with Ozzy Osbourne – to remember him by, but today, over 30 years since his passing, his playing is still considered relevant and his playing style is dissected, studied and marvelled at by guitarists worldwide.

Randy had a great love of classical music and used his understanding of musical theory to combine classical scales such as Harmonic minor, Melodic minor and Diminished with the staple scales used in Rock – the Pentatonic and blues scales. This combination, in the hands of a genius such as Randy, created a unique style that was to become known as “Neoclassical”, and was to be taken to its extremes (and beyond, some may say) by virtuoso guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, but Randy was right there at the start.

Sure, he may have ‘borrowed” a few ideas from his contemporaries such as Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen, but thats how music evolves – as Ozzy himself has said “We’re all thieves” . . . .

When I first picked up a guitar I immediately wanted to play like Jimmy Page. In the 70’s Jimmy was THE man – in my opinion a Google search of “Guitar God” should lead to a photo of him onstage in his flares, wringing those screaming rock/blues solos from the neck of his Les Paul. I’d spend hours clumsily picking the intro to “Stairway To Heaven”, even though doing so was liable to get me thrown out of Musical Exchanges in Birmingham, where I’d hang out on Saturdays, playing all those guitars that I couldn’t afford, before returning home to plug in my tatty old Stratocaster copy.

Then I heard the first Van Halen album – specifically the tracks “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me”. WOW – I’d never heard playing like that. I immediately tuned my guitar to E flat and set about copying Eddie’s licks, not quite note-for-note, but as close an approximation as my hands could manage.

Then in 1981 I got hold of an album by Ozzy Osbourne, who’d recently parted company with Black Sabbath. I’d never been a big Sabbath fan – I preferred bluesier stuff like Led Zeppelin, so I half-heartedly placed the album on the deck of my music centre, and dropped the stylus onto side one, track one. The instant I heard the intro to “I Don’t Know” I was hooked – this was something else. It was hard and heavy, but extremely musical, and that guitar work was extraordinary – here was a great rock band with a virtuoso lead guitarist. Over the next few weeks I almost wore out the grooves on that album – “Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Oz” – there wasn’t a bad track on it. Even today every single track still sends shivers down my spine, and I just HAVE TO listen to the opus in its entirety.

“Diary Of A Madman” was released soon afterwards, and the same happened. Phenomenal playing, great songs. I couldn’t touch this guy, but I plugged away, stealing a lick here, a few notes there. I wanted to be Randy Rhoads – I still do . . . . .

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom...

Randy With His Gibson Les Paul Custom…

In July of 1981 a mate offered me a ticket to a gig that was gonna take place on August the 1st at the Port Vale football ground – half a dozen or so bands, headlined by Motörhead and Black Sabbath. Cool, I thought – Motörhead were one of my favourite bands, and I never missed an opportunity to see them live. Then a few days before the gig was due to take place Sabbath dropped out and it was announced that their spot would be filled by . . . . . Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz – YAY ! ! ! – my chance to see Randy with my own eyes, see if he could play this stuff live . .  . .

I vividly remember Ozzy running onto the stage to the Carmina Burana (or the “Old Spice” music as we knew it) – he ran up to the mike and screamed “I’M HERE, I’M F**KING HERE ! !”. Then Randy launched into the intro riff to “I Don’t Know” – to this very day I’ve never seen or heard such a heavy riff – the man was a monster of a player, even though his guitars almost buried his tiny frame. My memories of the rest of the set are sketchy – I remember Ozzy dragging Randy backwards across the stage by his hair as he played a solo – Randy didn’t miss a single note. I also remember that polka dot “V” guitar, and the white “RR” guitar . . . . .

Ozzy & Randy, Port Vale August 1981

Years later I bought an Ozzy photo book. Inside there were several shots taken at that Port Vale gig, including one of Ozzy & Randy, seen from the rear of the stage. I flipped when I spotted myself in the crowd :

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The sad end to Randy’s short life is documented well in his Wikipedia entry, so I’ll not repeat it here. Guitar players come and go, and players constantly argue over who is the best, who is the fastest. Vai, Satriani, Gilbert, Malmsteen et al are all phenomenal players, but its all about Randy Rhoads to me. He was, is and probably will always be my favourite player. The live “Tribute” album, released in 1987, is my all-time number one rock album – I’m proud to say I can play the guitar lines from every track absolutely note-for-note. I should hope so, I’ve spent over a quarter of a century trying . . . .

Who knows what Randy would have achieved, had he not stepped on that plane. It is well documented that he wanted to quit rock music to study classical guitar. I like to think he’d have gotten that out of his system, then returned to doing what he did best – loud, fast, tasteful, beautiful heavy metal guitar. We’ll never know.

Randy with the tools of his trade . . .

Saluté, Randy – Rest in Peace. Your playing is an inspiration to me every day.

Randy’s Grave, San Bernardino, California

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No, Don’t Stop The Carnival . . .

Sunday 25th August 2013

(As always – please feel free to click on any image to view a hi-res version in Flickr)
 
A track of our walking route today can be viewed HERE
 
 

A veritable treat lay in store for today – a visit to the world famous Notting Hill Carnival. I’ll admit to being slightly nervous about this beforehand – as kids growing up in the West Midlands our view of the city of London was that of a big, bad faraway place, and all we knew about the carnival was what we read in the newspapers or were told by Sandy Gall and his colleagues on TV :- Drunks, drugs, pickpockets, violence etc. But what the hell – it was something I’ve never experienced before, and a side of London culture that I thought I should witness with my own eyes, rather than via the flat screen in the corner of my lounge . . .

Starting at comfortable old Brent Cross underground station, on the Northern Line, our plan was to hop onto the Central line at Tottenham Court Road, then alight at Notting Hill Gate, from where we’d just follow the crowds. Hopping off the Northern Line Train we were immediately thrust into the midst of the crowds that were heading in the same direction as us – This was gonna be a busy day !

Tottenham Court Tube Station

Tottenham Court Tube Station

Tottenham Court Tube Station

Tottenham Court Tube Station

The Central line train got as far as Lancaster Gate before grinding to a halt, accompanied by an announcement over the PA system informing us that the train needed to wait until platforms at the stations ahead had been cleared, and that Notting Hill Gate station, which was meant to be exit only for most of the day, had been closed completely. No problem – We could just alight at Queensway and walk the half mile to our intended start position. Queensway was a rather nondescript station, to be perfectly honest. Also, instead of escalators it had lifts, of which I’m no fan, especially when they’re crowded. It was a case of “Grin and bear it”, however and we soon emerged into the bright sunshine of the Bank Holiday afternoon. As we walked along the A402 towards Notting Hill Gate the noise levels rose steadily. Whistles and horns, both readily available from the countless street traders, were being blown as revellers started to get into the carnival spirit. Upon reaching the top of Kensington Park Road we paused to prime our cameras, zip up our bags and stow any loose items – no point giving the pickpockets an easy time. Then we entered the fray.

Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Gardens, Notting Hill Carnival 2013

   It wasn’t long before we encountered the first floats. The leading float was basically an articulated lorry, piled high with amplifiers and speaker cabinets, atop of which sat a few DJs. F*CK, this was LOUD ! ! ! !

LOUD ! ! - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

LOUD ! ! – Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Dodging between lorries we continued on our way, all the time passing people just having fun, for funs sake. The sounds and aromas were an assault on the senses – whistles, horns, drums and amplified music made ones head spin, whilst stalls selling mouth-watering Jerk Chicken and an array of other delicious Caribbean foods made the tummy rumble almost as loudly . . .

Mario & Luigi - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Mario & Luigi – Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Mario & Luigi - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Mario & Luigi – Notting Hill Carnival 2013

 

 

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Drum Lessons

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Kensington Park Road

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Street Food . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Chicken Skewers aplenty . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Blenheim Crescent

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Joe Strummer Mural . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Joe Strummer Mural . . .

Turning onto the Portobello Road, home to the famous market, of which there was no trace today, we took time out to sit and people-watch as we drank ice cold Red Stripe.

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Portobello Road . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Portobello Road . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Plenty of Tat on sale !

Continuing on we next paused to watch an African drum group play some fantastic rhythms. A nearby shop was offering Red Stripe at £5 for 3 cans – it seemed rude not to….

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Portobello Road . . .

African Drummers - Notting Hill Carnival

African Drummers

African Drummers - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

African Drummers

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Oxford Gardens . . .

 Next we made our by now very merry way up to Golborne Road, as we wanted to see and photograph the infamous Trellick Tower. Love it or hate it (I’m no fan – to me it looks horrendous) the building is certainly impressive.

Trellick Tower - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Trellick Tower from Golborne Road

Trellick Tower - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Trellick Tower . . .

With readers of the blog in mind, and plenty of Red Stripe coursing through our veins, we attempted to blag our way into the tower to get photos. We got as far as the lift before we were apprehended by security and asked to leave. Oh well – it was worth a try . . .

Trellick Tower - Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Trellick Tower

Retracing our footsteps along Golborne Road we ambled our way across to Ladbroke Grove, where we sat down to catch our breath and eat ice cream. A friendly, rather inebriated young man said hello, and upon hearing my Black Country accent asked me if I was Australian ! ! G’Day, Mate ! !

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Oxford Gardens . . .

As we climbed up the steep hill of Ladbroke Grove, passing more carnival lorries, we were able to turn around and view the vast sea of bodies, as far as the eye could see.

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Grove . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Grove . . .

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Ladbroke Grove . . .

Trendy Rasta, Notting Hill Carnival

Trendy Rasta . . .

The carnival today was without doubt the most people I’ve ever seen in one place and, apart from a small dispute between a few girls in the toilet queue, I experienced nothing but people being friendly to one another and having fun. There was much alcohol flowing, and the aroma of Ganja was abundant, but the police officers, of which there were thousands, allowed the proceedings to flow. I take my hat off to every single officer I saw today at Notting Hill – to a man (and woman) they were cheery and helpful. Some even put on fancy dress items and allowed themselves to be photographed – wonderful stuff.

Notting Hill Carnival 2013

Mashed . . .

After reaching the top of Ladbroke Grove we made our way along Holland Park Avenue towards Notting Hill Gate, still surrounded by plenty of now tired, but still whistle and horn blowing revellers. It was time to head home, eat, relax and reflect on what had been a truly unforgettable day . . .

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Speeling Error of the week ……

Spotted at the Notting Hill Carnival on Sunday. Apologies for the poor quality of the shot, I was laughing heartily at the time . . . .

Lamp Curry ????

Lamp Curry ???? …… Click on image to view in Flickr.

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Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death….

Sunday 18th August 2013

Today was my 50th birthday. Quite a while age – at least 5 years, maybe more – I / we had started to plan big things for this occasion. At this very moment I was to be sitting in the Ciribiri trattoria in San Gimignano, Tuscany, surrounded by my close family…. all of us eating great food and supping the finest Chianti. On our return from Italy a huge party was planned – my brother-in-law celebrates his 40th birthday later this year, and we were gonna have a double celebration – all the family, live band, food, drinks – the works.

That was then. Now is different. I spent today walking the streets of Walsall, alone…. I’d have loved to have purchased a few drinks to celebrate / drown my sorrows, but with less than 50p in my pocket that wasn’t on the cards. I made do with walking past the local bars and pubs, and watching others having fun. My “birthday drink” came out of a tap in the bus station toilets.

It was all self-inflicted, I admit – to be honest I’ve been dreading today for a while – rather than a day for celebrating what I have with those I love it was always gonna be spent looking back on what I had, what I’ve lost, and what I don’t have.

If one good thing has come out of today its my determination that I’ll never celebrate another of my birthdays, as long as I live . . . .

Goodbye 18th August 2013, and good riddance.

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