Ice, leaf, the mini
eyeballs – how the global cold
alters too to freaks.



Top Fifty 4: Bert Jansch – The Bert Jansch Sampler, 1969

[originally posted October 2011]


Bert Jansch – The Bert Jansch Sampler

Like many, I’m genuinely saddened to hear of Bert Jansch’s death yesterday, aged 67. I’ve seen him play once with John Renbourne – a local gig, supported to encourage artists to play in the wider, small-venue community – and have listened to and followed his career with enjoyment, though I couldn’t claim to have been a massive and consistent fan. No reason for not being; just the amount of music out there. But his influence as guitarist and songwriter on the folk and wider music scene is enormous.

Being honest, I doubt I would have initially picked this album as a top fifty, but I have no problem doing so now having been prompted by this news. A top fifty was always going to be a movable feast anyway; never ever a finite thing. There is no question, however, that this album was hugely influential in my fledgling listening experience. As I have recounted before, the sampler albums of the late 60s/early 70s had a massive impact because of the quality of music presented but also, and obviously, their cost. As a teenager I didn’t have much cash for records. Bert’s sampler album came out in 1969.

Favourite tracks are Rabbit Run, Go Your Way My Love, Needle of Death [and what a powerful impression this made on a young mind yet to experience the drug culture], Blackwater Side, and David Graham’s brilliant Angie made popular by Jansch [and which I heard last night played on Planet Rock and thought it odd for that station, not having heard then of his death]. Every single song resonates because being one of the few albums I had at the time it was one I always played. So each – in addition to the inherent excellence – conjures images and remembered feelings of growing up at that time, and this fuels the emotion I feel today in hearing he has gone.

Unlike some of my friends at the time who were more skilled and diligent as budding guitarists, I never learned to play Angie as well as I should. I can still turn out a near approximation, but it’s pretty basic stuff. Bert Jansch will have encouraged so many young guitarists at the time to emulate his style and hone their skills. What a legacy that is in addition to the recorded music and live performances.

In reading other tributes today I came across this quote from Neil Young and it sums up with huge affection the high regard fellow artists had for Jansch:  With deep regret Pegi and I acknowledge the passing of Bert Jansch. Pegi and I were lucky to play with him on all of our shows for the last couple of years. He is a hero of mine, one of my greatest influences. Bert was one of the all-time great acoustic guitarists and singer songwriters. Our sincerest sympathies to his soul mate Loren. We love you Bert.


Additional: Loren sadly died two months after Bert. A friend and I were working in London in December 2011 and we visited Highgate Cemetery – my first time – and just beyond the entrance to the East Cemetery we came upon Bert Janch’s burial place and, to our surprise, the freshly dug grave of Loren’s beside him. This is the tribute there today,

bertloren - Copy


The BBC’s Fake News

trump fake - Copy

Donald Trump The Largest Purveyor of Fake News?

The news announced yesterday that the BBC is going to set up an educational programme for schools to teach/explore the issues of ‘fake’ news [read more here] is naturally a laudable enterprise, but its presentation as some kind of noble initiative – even apocalyptic in the apparent realisation that something needs to be done about this, now – is quite amusing but also annoying.

What the BBC is proposing is, of course, a timely layer to add to the long-standing subject of Media Studies, not that this layer won’t already be a key element of existing teaching. I was annoyed but also bemused to hear this announcement yesterday because it is in its own way fake news: the idea that an educational gap has to be filled and filled by this organisation.

For decades Media Studies has been pilloried as a soft subject, the ‘mickey mouse’ of academia, denigrated by the likes of the Daily Mail [always ironic as a key representative of why we all but especially young people need to have the critical faculty to analyse the bias and outright lying of such media organisations] and rejected by some universities as an ‘appropriate’ subject for admission purposes.

I’m not going to detail the importance of Media Studies by looking at curriculum content over the years. The obvious ‘fake’ news about Media Studies throughout the history of its denigration was a focus on TV study and especially soap operas and similar. What this purposefully ignored was the critical analysis element to that study – perceived as accessible and pertinent to a young audience – and it is this critical structure that is a skill applicable to all study and life in general. Of course, soap operas are unlikely to be applicable to a youth/school audience today: it is social media and the way social media has been used as the major vehicle for the dissemination of fake news, and disseminated for a whole range of dangerous and unacceptable reasons.

And it is for these reasons that Media Studies should be a core, compulsory subject, supported by the expertise of a news organisation like the BBC who should, one would hope, be able to analyse its own examples of bias as evidence of the pervasiveness of such.

My opening picture of Donald Trump and the headline with a question mark is one simple example of how easy it is to manipulate: had there been no question mark and so making the comment a declarative we are already in the world of trying to control message and meaning.

Not that he isn’t, by the way. Without doubt. There is all that evidence, too much to place here…

Finding Nigella in Her Perfect Roast Potatoes

nigella - Copy

The following is a preamble by Nigella Lawson to a recipe she contributed in yesterday’s ‘Observer Food Monthly, 20 Best Christmas Recipes’,

Needs must and all that, so I have always been an open anti-perfectionist, but in truth it is impossible to cook roast potatoes without needing them perfect, which to me means sweet and soft inside and a golden-brown carapace of crunch without. And, strangely, no matter how many tricksy things you may succeed at in cooking, nothing gives quite the contented glow of achievement that cooking a good tray of roast potatoes does. Unfortunately there is concomitant decline when you feel you’ve failed. The brutal truth is that you either get it right or you don’t, and anything less than perfect is a disappointment. There are three critical things that I think make the difference: the first is the heat of the fat – if it’s not searingly hot, you don’t stand a chance, and since goose fat has a very high smoking point and tastes good, it is my annual choice here; the second is the size of your potatoes – you want them relatively small, so that the ratio of crunchy outside to fluffy interior is optimised; and, finally, I think dredging the potatoes – and this is a family practice, inherited through the maternal line – is semolina rather than flour after parboiling, then really rattling the pan around to make the potatoes a bit mashed on the surface so they catch more in the hot fat, is a major aid.

This is an interesting, signature piece of writing by Lawson, sumptuously sautéed with language that at times oozes charm but at others is a little cloying. Overall, I think it engages because it is distinctive though I do not think its descriptive qualities match its aural ones: not poetic, but linguistically melodic enough to sing above plainer recipe tunes.

And there you go: my spuds would seem to have been splashed a bit by her linguistic oil. I’m not alone. Mike Bradley writing in The Observer’s TV guide began his ‘Pick of the Day’ for today’s ‘Nigella: At My Table’ with the line Preview tapes were not available for this evening’s final feast with the silk-shrouded purveyor of all things delicious, a mimetic take too of Lawson’s alliterative and hyperbolic style.

I could produce a detailed analysis of her piece [and in fact have, linked to teaching writing] but won’t here for now. Not detailed. It is, as I’ve said, mixed: I think it is characteristically stylised for that signature; is linguistically rich at times; has a reasonably coherent narrative drive, though is also occasionally incongruous [the brutal truth does not really match, even as exaggeration, the disappointment of imperfect potatoes], and the nerd in me applauds her handling – simply accurate, but accurate all the same – in the construction of the triplet beginning three critical things.

As a model for teaching writing, it isn’t! I certainly wouldn’t use in a wholly grammatical exploration as exemplification which government English Key Stage testing would endorse and insist open – despite evidence otherwise [see here]. I would and have used such with which to be playful in a workshop for writing: I used Nigella Lawson recipes as a text transformation task in my co-authored GCSE textbook Writing Workshops [and I’ll post a screengrab of a single page as illustration at the end: there is clearly instruction as well as advice in the teaching approach, but reading and student discussion of the style model – not reprinted here – is the key stimulus].

I did yesterday, however, experiment with Lawson’s piece at the beginning of this article to find a poem within it all, using a random word generator and then crafting a found poem, and I would happily do similar with students for that playfulness, but not in terms of teaching writing for GCSE [and, of course, beyond]. And it is the playfulness I wanted to focus on here rather than the mild teaching argument, but I couldn’t resist the latter. Here is the outcome for the former,

Finding Nigella in Her Perfect Roast Potatoes

To me,
perfect is

a carapace
of rattling

optimised –

anything less

is a fluffy

crunch and

without the
ratio of

soft to fat:


in a decline
of the


NL eg

The following is a page from the teachers’ resource I wrote to go with this workshop, and for the whole book:

NL 2




Top Fifty 3: Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold as Love, 1967

[originally posted March 2013]


Dig My Freak Flag

I would appear to have prevaricated in deciding about putting this album into my Top Fifty, when it and Electric Ladyland are absolute givens to join Are You Experienced. Rather, I have prevaricated in keeping up with the Top Fifty, soon [perhaps] to be swelled with the bulk of John Martyn’s albums which are obvious givens too.

Axis Bold As Love contains two of the most beautiful songs ever written, by anyone: Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand, the former as magnificent as it gets, with the latter running it close and excelling in that psychedelic storytelling of the time.

It’s tempting to want to articulate some mimetic description of the guitar work, but why bother? Just listen. There are playful elaborations as Hendrix explores more on this second album in his unassailable trinity of iconic work, for example on EXP.

The album also contains the all-time great anti-establishment anthem If 6 Was 9, resonating as revolution in a teenager’s aural world at the time. It is such a funky number with its aggressive base and guitar two-step, then there is that jazz break with walking bass, a guitar that makes those unique noises, the line Point on Mr Businessman/You can’t dress like me, then rolling drums and the close-to-mic voice of Jimi claiming triumphantly So let me live my life the way I want to, and the guitar squeals and wails in its sustained independence.


So many of these songs exemplify the genius of Hendrix [and producer Chas Chandler – maybe more so him] in framing Jimi’s sound within such short pop-burst timings. The album was completed in haste in 1967, the same year as debut album Are You Experienced, but it does not suffer for that expediency. The lengthy guitar jams are what we all want to hear, but the songcraft and even pop sensibilities of many of the songs on this album are what endear and endure. And when we arrive at relatively lengthy songs like closer Bold as Love at four minutes, the dramatic storytelling is augmented by the contrast, and the sweet guitar solo leading to the distortion effects of its finish is glorious.



Sentences by Robert Grenier [1978]

RG1 - Copy

I am indebted to Rupert Loydell for introducing and sharing: these typewritten poems of words and phrases by American poet and visual artist Robert Grenier were originally produced on individual cards and could/should be read in any order the reader chooses.  I have today been reading them at the online version which can be found here and for which there is a note about their reading to be looked at first here.

It is a reading that is full of delight and surprise. I enjoyed leaving open on my pc [and it could be any device/reader] and returning now and then to continue the exploration and discovery. This is how the online page will greet you,