Sunday, April 13, 2014

Five Days in Stockholm: ABBA, Vikings, Shopping & Buns

Flying into Stockholm at sunset is a rather magical experience; the jagged patchwork of islands glowing beneath you, bathed in a phosphorescent pinky-yellow that you only seem to get in the Nordics. I’d last been to Sweden ten years ago, on the way to the Roskilde Rock Festival in Denmark, and before that to visit a friend in Gothenburg, but never to the country’s capital.

Our long weekend was largely spent shopping (Stockholm has a good range of boutique/vintage and unfamiliar high street clothes shops), eating cinnamon buns, eating generally, and bimbling around the different islands across which the city is spread. There were occasional bouts of culture (if you can count ‘ABBA the Museum’ as such), and some very special time spent with family in the leafy suburbs, but mostly we were there to relax and soak up the atmosphere.

Before going to Stockholm, I’d had a vision in my mind of a sparkling and elegant city, with sparkling and elegant inhabitants. It is certainly a smart city in places, but turned out to be a lot shabbier around the edges than I’d expected, largely due to extensive ongoing building work around the place, and a slight grubbiness which may well have been a symptom of the time of year we visited: not quite in the bloom of spring, but falling out of the mysterious darkness of winter into a more exposed state.

But it was an easy place to be. Our apartment was on a quiet street in Södermalm (apparently the hippest part of town), and only a short walk across the water in the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and on into Östermalm – the chi-chi city centre whose extravagant department stores make John Lewis feel downmarket. It was in one of these that Ant managed to finally replace the beloved Stetson Hatteras hat he’d lost some time ago on a train, and where I had to have words with myself about the practicalities of transporting a fabulous-but-enormous light fitting back in my little wheelie suitcase.

One of the highlights of the city for me was the surprisingly dinky cathedral, which is tucked away in the Old Town. The interior was smart and light and not at all oppressive (which many grand religious spaces can be), sporting stylish light fittings and some old artworks that were well worth a look. I was also rather taken with the foodie culture of the place. We managed to eat very well, especially at Rival (which I am told is pronounced ‘Reevaal’), the restaurant in Benny from ABBA’s swanky hotel which was just around the corner from our flat.

On the last day of the trip, we travelled a short way north of Stockholm to visit Uppsala, a significant historical site which you may recall, if you have been watching Vikings, as the setting for sacred pilgrimage, debauched festivities and gruesome human sacrifice. All that is left of such legend now are an impressive 250 barrows (burial mounds) and a 12th century church which may have been built on the site of the fabled Norse temple that is believed to have once been at the centre of these dark rituals. The freezing weather on the day we visited only added to the chilling atmosphere of the place, which even though boxed in by roads, a railway line and housing estate, manages to maintain an eerie ambience. No doubt his was fuelled in part by my own fascination with Viking culture, which has lately been re-ignited by the terribly silly but compelling TV series.

Much of the trip is captured in this little video diary we kept along the way, which ends a bit abruptly because we forgot to film a final entry when we got home. But have a watch if you fancy seeing a bit more of Sweden's capital. There are lots of cakes and it gives a good feel for the different parts of the city.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Annual Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail (aka Ro’s gloriously self indulgent prog fest)

My love for prog rock and psychedelic folk is not something that often gets indulged outside of private spaces like home, headphones, or car. I do appreciate that prog especially is not to everyone’s taste; some of my friends even go so far as to express an active loathing for the genre, and so unless I’m in musically-likeminded company I don’t tend to subject others to this particular section of my record collection. In the past I've gotten away with sticking the odd proggy track into the midst of a more crowd-pleasing DJ set or party playlist (Hocus Pocus by Focus is a staple), and I do recall one Green Man festival when I danced the night away to some extremely esoteric tunes spun by Freakier Zone’s Professor Justin Spear, but it’s a rare thing to be able to jump up and down to this type of music in a public place and to be among people who enjoy it as much as I do. Last night I felt like a very lucky girl when I was allowed, nay encouraged, to play a whole evening’s worth of folky-proggy goodness at the Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail.

For those that don’t know, a Wassail is a pagan festival where mulled cider is drunk and apple trees are blessed in the hopes of a good crop from the next harvest. Although an ancient ritual, this particular event - held at Stone Cross Nurseries - is still in its infancy, having started up only last year. The first Pentacle Drummers’ Wassail in 2013 was a magical night, made extra sparkly by the timely snowfall that turned the torch lit procession to the newly planted orchard into a scene from Game of Thrones (minus the raping and pillaging). This year the weather conditions were entirely less frozen, but equally extreme. “Bring your wellies”, we were told.

As the punters started arriving in the early evening, I eased them in with some gentle (some might say accessible) folk, including First Aid Kit, Imagined Village and Iron & Wine. The mellowing effects of these soothing tunes were then spectacularly undone by the invigorating opening performance from the Pentacles, whose primal pagan drumming is about as far from the sunny Samba scene as you can imagine. They were followed by belly dancers Tribal Unity and the fabulously attired Steampunk Morris, until it was time for the procession.

Sadly there was no bonfire this year, but given that the field was one big puddle due to the relentless rainfall these past few weeks, this may well have been problematic anyway. Nonetheless, the excitable atmosphere swelled as we tramped like Vikings through a bog, fiery torches in hand. A little girl in front of me squeaked “I love all this muddy stuff” as she skipped through the mire, and I had to agree that it did lend a certain dramatic something to the occasion, albeit more Waterworld than Narnia.

At the orchard we sang songs, heard prayers to gods ancient and new, had a little dance in the mud, and shared apple cake and cider from last year’s harvest (although not from these saplings, which are too young to bear fruit). As the crowd began to disperse, I dashed on ahead to line up some rousing music to welcome them back inside, choosing Led Zeppelin’s 'Immigrant Song', followed by some Yes and Yellow Moon Band. People (including, but not only, me) were up and dancing. Noone was shouting ‘get this nonsense off'. I was relieved.

Next was the raffle – all for a good cause and with some fun prizes (Linda and I were disappointed not to win the Witch Weekend in Glastonbury; maybe we'll go anyway) – but a little bit of a mood-killer, just when we were getting into the swing. But Greg’s witty raffle repartee kept us merry, and then it was time for more drumming and dancing, but not before I’d snuck in a couple of tracks, including Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’, to which the drummers rather brilliantly started tapping along.

This may have been around the time when I drank the 8% farmhouse cider that ruined me, since the rest of the night is something of a happy hazy blur. I do distinctly recall grinning like a loon at a seven or eight year old girl with rainbow face paint, who was moshing around with us to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Hoedown’, and thinking what great musical taste she had for such a young thing. The headline act of the evening was a very entertaining goth-rock band from Totnes called ROxIRcle, who enabled my frenzied flailing (one could hardly call it dancing) to continue.

I knew I wanted the night to end with Focus (as every good night should, but rarely does), and I managed to sneak in playing ‘Syliva’ to the departing hordes before packing up my things and calling a cab for me and my cohorts. I cannot tell you what a joyful experience all of this was for me. I may never get to have such a wonderfully self-indulgent night of DJ-ing ever again, but I will always have the memory of this Wassail. Even the monster hangover was worth it.

If you've been reading this thinking "that selection of music sounds like my worst nightmare", you probably won't want to listen to this Spotify playlist I made of my DJ set. But otherwise, knock yourself out. And don't forget the cider.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best of 2013 - Looking Back at The Year

There's no escaping it, I've been terrible at keeping up with my blog this year. In fact, it's been slowly neglected since its peak in 2008, when I published a mega 122 posts. In 2013, I'd written exactly one post, with this last minute one taking it up to a grand total of two. I feel bad about it, because my blog was somewhere I would capture all the interesting things going on in my life, if only to aid my own reminiscence in years to come. I've let my future self down.

Blogging has also been a welcome non-work related outlet for my writing over the years, although in recent times, since my job has largely involved creating non-stop content for others, I must admit I've struggled to find the discipline to sit down at weekends and churn out any more words. I do think Facebook and Twitter are also partly to blame, providing a handy platform to share bite-sized accounts of holidays, events and the like, so that sometimes a whole self-indulgent blog post can feel a tad superfluous.

But what the hell, I have had a lovely year on the whole, so here it is in one long vainglorious digest. Even if you only skim over and look at the pretty pictures, I'd say it's worth a look. I would promise to try harder in 2014, but I have a feeling I'd be kidding myself and you.


We spent 1st January in Slapton, Devon, recovering from a night out in the village pub the night before with Harriet, Lewys and their friends. Our gentle New Year's Day involved a rather picturesque walk around Slapton Ley and down to the beach, before driving back to Eastbourne less than 24 hours after we'd arrived.

We may not have had a White Christmas in 2012, but the snow arrived in time for the annual Wassail ceremony in January, lending the event a little extra elemental magic. This atmospheric procession of fire and ice led us to the traditional blessing of a new orchard and back again to raise a glass of hot spicy cider to the apple trees.

Our first proper cultural outing of the year (not including Panto and the infamous Cod panto - as seen above - which is performed every year by the crew), was to see One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I don't think I have ever laughed so hard at a show before, and I honestly thought Jordan might wet herself when the waiter fell backwards down the stairs. Tears were rolling down our cheeks.


The end of January and most of February were socially and culturally sparse, thanks to me being laid up with a trapped nerve that made work difficult and any kind of strenuous activity (including driving) impossible, but I did manage a couple of gentle outings during the rehabilitation period. My first gig of the year was Boo Hewerdine at the Greys in Brighton. Little did I know then that he'd be back again to play at my local pub, The Lamb, in October. A double-Boo year is a good year.

I am very grateful to the friends and family who accompanied me on restorative walks and comforting cake missions during my sick leave, including Jo and Nancy who came over for a bit of both during the February half term. Nancy could hardly bring herself to eat this beautiful rainbow cake, made by the lovely ladies at Neate's.


This little nephew braved the elements with us for an Easter trip down to Devon in Kiki the campervan, and saw his first waterfall during a magical walk around Lydford Gorge. We also visited a wild and windswept Tintagel, and discovered that Nutella and custard is an outstanding topping for pancakes.

Having succumbed to the hype, a gang of us went to see Matilda the Musical in London, which was excellent for a children's show but not quite as subversive and edgy as the critics would have you believe. If anything, I thought Dahl's anarchic brilliance was somewhat tamed by being set to music, but it was a fabulous day out which ended with drinks at my old favourite theatrical dive, the Phoenix bar.


More outdoor adventures happened in April, when the weather was kinder, and we camped out in Graffham with Kiki and her best friend Olive (and Olive's keepers Steve and Linda). No campfires allowed in this woodland site, but it was a splendid base for an all-day walk with a pub lunch along the way, and several games of Kubb.


I've always wanted to dress up as Abba with my sister and our other halves, and what better occasion than the Swedish-hosted Eurovision in May? An evening of international snacks, key-change drinking games and endless wig-swapping ensued.

After a night of all-out campery, sometimes one needs to reset the balance with an injection of wilful geekery, and we managed to combine some of this with a day out at Michelham Priory with Andrew and Amy, where we spent at least an hour talking to a couple of skilled flint-knappers who were there as part of an ancient crafts fair.

A visit from the in-laws prompted us to visit Glynde Place for the first time, and to have lunch at the Trevor Arms for the first time in a while. Both were most pleasant, as was a trip to Bexhill in the sunshine, where we found some sort of exciting boat race going on.


At the end of May and into the start of June, Kiki and Olive reunited for a trip to the Welsh mountains, for the tiny and wonderful Fire in the Mountain Festival. Red kites swooped overhead, the sun beat down for three days straight and all kinds of music poured out of every nook and cranny of the little farm. We learned Appalachian flat foot dancing, sang in harmony with our fellow festy-goers, bonded around camp fires and ceilidh-d our way through the weekend, but Ant's highlight was a morning spent in the woodcrafts area, turning a new stick to replace a broken one in our Kubb set, so that we could teach more new found friends how to play. 

This photo (my favourite one of the year) was taken at Rubjerg Knude Fyr in Denmark, on one of the sunniest days of our Nordic adventure at the end of June, just before we reached the very top of the country. Having driven up through The Netherlands and Germany, we explored most of Jutland and Odense and discovered stunning beaches, fairytale castles and heart-breakingly magnificent midnight sunsets. Of all the delights Denmark had to offer, though, I was most affected by its very tip - Skagen - where the distinctive light has inspired many generations of artists including the troubled but brilliant P.S. Krøyer, and where you can stand (as we did) with one foot in the Baltic, and one in the Atlantic, watching the two seas gently crash into each other. I have never been so transfixed by a painting as by Krøyer's Midsummer's Eve Bonfire on Skagen's Beach, which captures a community of painters, fishermen and poets gathered together for the midsummer festival, their relationships and emotions exposed by the haunting glow of the fire.


Sometimes after going to far-flung places, you need to remind yourself that there's no place like home. This pretty little spot just down the road at Cooden Beach was the scene of a few mini getaways over the summer; the perfect place to escape to on a Friday night to watch the sun set, cook a barbecue supper, walk along the sand, camp out in Kiki, and even one time, to watch a seal dancing about with the morning tide.

The day after this particular idyllic evening, we went on one of the shortest-lived but most memorable picnics ever; our Brighton friends struggled through traffic diversions to make it just in time for the heavens to open literally ten minutes after we'd all trekked up the hill and sat down to eat. But nevermind, because the communal soaking led to much retrospective merriment, as we all dried off and warmed up with cups of tea back at our place.

July was also a good month for gigs, with Ana Silvera at The Vortex in London, and Regina Spektor at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill both soothing us into the height of summer.


Photo by Paul Spink.

August is the month of open air Shakespeare in Eastbourne, and this year's EODS offering was The Tempest. I've often thought that they should use the seafront setting to its full advantage and put on this shipwreck/desert island drama, and was so happy to see the minimal set incorporating the natural backdrop of the sea. To see my brother in law in a frock was an added bonus in what turned out to be an excellent production. I'd recommend you read James's review which sums it all up rather well.

A family camping weekend near Bodiam castle and a trip to its medieval festival was another highlight of the summer holidays. I especially loved seeing one year old Axel relishing The Great Outdoors as an opportunity to test out his newly toddling legs. I'm not too sure how impressed he was with this medieval monk, though.


The End of the Road Festival is so called because it claims to be the final festival of the summer, happening as it does at the end of August/beginning of September weekend. I've been a couple of times before, in 2009 and 2010, but it had changed a bit in the last three years. For one thing, there was an extra stage for the main acts, which took them out of the cosy walled garden and into a less intimate open field. It's still a small festival compared with many others, but I did find the cuteness has slipped somewhat. Nevertheless, it was an excellent weekend, with some memorable gigs including David Byrne and St Vincent and Ed Harcourt among my personal favourites, not to mention our own outstanding performance as the cast of a five minute production of The Wizard of Oz, which you can see for yourself above. 


Ant also experienced his first silent disco, at the end of our absinthe-fuelled final night. If you've never been to one of these, you should - it's truly hilarious. Especially when you take your headphones off and hear everyone singing along out of tune as can be witnessed here. Pure joy!


September brought a third Mini Maker Faire in Brighton, after months of preparation and promotion. I got to interview Maggie Philbin (yes, she of Tomorrow's World fame) and Bill Thompson among others as part of my live reporting duties - have a listen to the podcasts here

It was also the most colourful month of the year, thanks to a visit from Neel (who now lives in Melbourne), at whose Colour Block party I was one of only a few who chose to dress in green. Interestingly, pink and red were the most popular colours, and we discovered that far too many people base their knowledge of the rainbow on the children's song (which has the colours in completely the wrong order) rather than any useful acronymic reminder.

My birthday weekend was a special one spent eating cake and playing games with loved ones, and catching up with old friends at Paul D's 50th party on the Sunday. It's rare you get to see the theatre crew decked out in posh clothes (frocks are far more common); they don't scrub up too badly at all.


As the nights started drawing in during October, we finally (after three years of living here) got around to decorating our bedroom and living room, ridding them of our predecessors' wallpaper and replacing the dreaded peacocks with far more soothing stripes. On the cultural front, there was an outing to see Cabaret at The Congress, my abiding memory of which will always be the overheard conversations of bemused punters who'd come expecting Pop Idol style jollity and were apparently upset to be confronted by harrowing holocaust themes. "I preferred The Bodyguard" was one classic comment.

My favourite film of the year, Le Week-end, was also in October. The touching and intentionally uncomfortable story of an ageing couple celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, it starred the master of pathos, Jim Broadbent, elegantly foiled by Lindsay Duncan as his beautiful but jaded wife. 


November was a momentous month for us, because after almost year of assessment and preparation, we were officially approved to become adoptive parents. We celebrated the day with an ice cream on the beach and a trip to Brighton to collect Bobbie and Anna's G-plan sideboard (now in pride of place against the new stripy wallpaper in our lounge). This photo was taken on the weekend before panel, on the Downs above East Dean.

It was also an important month for Doctor Who, which celebrated its 50th birthday with a feature length spectacular that was shown in cinemas as well as on TV. It so happened that our Who-mad nephew and his mum were visiting that weekend, so we of course took them to see it in 3D at the Crumbles after loading up on pizza.


This is my favourite snap from Ant's birthday soirée last week, capturing as it does the camp insanity of the evening. The theme was Fanlight Fanny's Festive Frolic, and festively frolic we did. And yes, that is me in the turban; what of it? I've spared Ant the humiliation of posting a picture of him in drag, although if you ask him nicely, I'm sure he'll be persuaded to share.

I haven't mentioned work at all in this post yet, although it's obviously taken up quite a lot of my year. That's not because I don't enjoy what I do (because I do), but unless you're also a social media/digital type person it might be a bit dull. One work thing of which I am really proud this year, and that I think you might enjoy, is this animated Christmas ad I conceived and commissioned for The Body Shop.

Christmas itself was spent Up North this year, and after 300 miles of battling through wind and rain, we managed to relax for a few days of quality time with the Miller clan, even making it as far as The Lakes for a family gathering in a soft play centre.

I expect there are many other highlights I've neglected to mention (please, do remind me of them), but these are some that stick in my mind as special and memorable occasions. Thank you to everyone who has helped make 2013 a very jolly and fulfilling year; I really am a very lucky girl.


So on the last day of 2013, I'm sat here reflecting on the past 12 months, and contemplating the year ahead. It certainly looks set to be eventful, if not for the same reasons as this year and the ones that went before it. I hope I'll be able to find time to show my blog a little love in the months ahead, but if I don't, you'll know why.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ana Silvera at The Vortex, London

Whenever I have been to Hackney, amusing events have occurred. There was the time that a random man at a bus stop asked Harriet "are you stupid?" to which she replied "no, I'm a teacher" (as if the two things were mutually exclusive), and Stephen's birthday a couple of years back, when we had to pee behind a curtain in a fabric shop (it's not quite as bad as it sounds). It has led me to believe that such happenings are inevitable in this part of the world, and so when Anna suggested a musical jaunt up that way, I hoped for similarly memorable adventures.

Anna had picked the gig, and from scanning the Guardian review that she sent round, it sounded like Our Sort of Thing. After an unusually jolly overground ride across Town, we arrived at The Vortex,  and Anna opened the door to the upstairs venue. we were a little late and the gig was already in full swing. An alarming cacophony of strings accompanied by discordant screeching noises (we assumed from a human) came bursting out, and there was an exchange of raised eyebrows between the four of us as we recoiled a few steps back down the stairs in a mixture of horror and hysterics. Apparently it was to be *that* sort of evening, you know, the kind that ends with "It's not's finished".

After dashing back to the bar to reinforce ourselves with booze, we braved the gig with a resolve to enjoy the evening, even if in the spirit of racking up a good anecdote. By the time we returned, the support act had calmed down quite a bit, and was making some far more pleasing sounds. Still on the eccentric end of the spectrum, cellist and singer Laura Moody is refreshingly aware of her own wilful wackiness, and makes an endearing pastiche of the self-indulgent performance-art form. Her musicality is evident, and there were moments in between the madness of true string-gliding elegance and vocal skill. Our initial impression was replaced with appreciation: this girl was clearly a #zonechild.

The main act was Ana Silvera, whom we had unknowingly bumped into in the corridor earlier, during our comedy double take moment. A petite lady with a gigantic voice, the classically trained pianist and singer gave us one of those skin-tingling, unforgettable sets, the like of which I cannot recall since My Brightest Diamond at Green Man in 2007. Laced with familiar (and welcome) influences including Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley and even my beloved Boo Hewerdine (in the song Letter from New York, particularly), and yet full of its own distinct character and charm, Silvera's performance had the intimate audience enraptured, hanging off her every perfect note. When she began to sing in French, I was completely undone, tears rolling unexpectedly down my cheeks. It was one of the loveliest and most affecting gigs I have been to, and a pleasingly memorable evening in all regards.

You can hear Ana Silvera's debut album The Aviary on Soundcloud or buy it on Amazon.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Diane Cluck at Eras of Style

There's this place on the outskirts of Bexhill (of all places); you ought to go there. You'd probably never stumble upon it by chance, but if like us, you love nothing more than combining vintage furniture browsing with delicious cake eating of a weekend, you'll love Eras of Style. It's a converted station that's been transformed into an antiques warehouse, with its own rather splendid cafe, with Art Deco sofas and excellent coffee. We tend to pop in whenever we're over that way, although we've never actually bought anything other than refreshments.

A few weekends back, we took my sister and her family there and the four year old was entranced by a room full of old fairground bits and bobs, including some walzter carriages that had been converted into sofas (I know, I would have if we had the room). While we were there I noticed some posters for a couple of upcoming gigs in the cafe, and made a note to check them out. I knew I recognised the name Diane Cluck from somewhere, and although I couldn't find her on Spotify (usually a good sign), I realised I'd first heard her music on a Green Man Festival sampler from 2007, and more recently on Freakzone. Both good signs.

Thursday night events in Sussex are always a bit tricky, as Ant has to make it back from London, but I booked tickets anyway, feeling optimistic. The night rolled around and public transport was not kind to my date. He missed two excellent support acts and the chance to claim one of the vintage armchairs that had been arranged as seating, but thankfully he arrived just in time for the headliner.

Accompanied only by her own guitar, and talented young cellist Isabel Castellvi, Diane Cluck filled the intimate space with charm and warmth, and no small amount of musical accomplishment. Her poetic, heartfelt lyrics weaving effortlessly through complex time signatures and quirky cadences, she kept the audience spellbound. It made such a refreshing change to be at a gig where everyone was completely silent and respectful during the performance - not something you experience very often in Brighton, except perhaps at St George's.

Although her style is very much her own, we found certain pleasant similarities with Laura Veirs, Jesca Hoop and Natalie Merchant - all much loved artists in this household. I was particularly captivated by a song about Saint Sara, who Cluck apparently discovered and become fascinated with on a trip to France. The magic felt by the artist carried contagiously through her singing, and a haunting chorus of "Sara-Kali-Ereshkigal-Sara" sent shivers down my spine. She writes more about the story behind the song here.

At one point, the cellist put down her instrument to come and sing in unaccompanied harmony with Cluck, revealing a talent for more than just strings. Their perfectly intertwined voices in that cosy setting was a truly lovely experience, and as I felt him relax into the evening, I hoped that Ant's stressful journey had been worth it. If you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing Diane Cluck live; she's one of those people to whom the recorded form doesn't do full justice.

Eras of Style proved an unexpected delight of a venue - it felt like a private performance in an eccentrically decorated living room, complete with wonky standard lamps in place of stage lighting. In a few weeks I'll be back for Liz Green, for which you can still buy tickets here. These charming events are being put on by Music's Not Dead, a little independent music shop in Bexhill that you should definitely visit, too.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Barcamp Brighton 2012 (Podcast)

A couple of weeks ago I went to my first Barcamp, at the Skiff in Brighton. A Barcamp, for those who don't know, is an alternative knowledge-sharing conference where there is no pre-defined agenda and every participant runs a session. The schedule starts as a blank grid on Saturday morning, and gets filled with cards on which people write the details of their talk or workshop.  There are usually three or four sessions going on at any one time, and they can be on literally anything - from coding to sewing to quantum mechnanics. It goes on all weekend, and includes evening socialising and gaming that usually continues into the wee small hours.

Having never been to a Barcamp before, I was a little nervous about getting up to present, and had no idea what I would talk about. So I decided to cheat a little, and run my session as a broadcast of recordings that I'd make over the course of the weekend, hacked together into a podcast with whatever level of quick editing I could manage in the time. This meant that I was reliant on others being willing to talk to me, and getting enough good material to make it interesting. Having played around with podcasts at a few other geeky events lately (FSC Hack Day, Mobile World Congress and Maker Faire), I was fairly confident that it would work. Thankfully my instinct was right, and I had a whale of time doing it.

I've grown to love podcasting as a medium for recording live events, for a number of different reasons. Often the most interesting bits of this type of event are the conversations that go on in between the sessions, when everyone is fizzing with excitement and bouncing ideas around on the back of the talk they've just been in. And podcasting is a great way to capture that energy and immediacy of response. When it comes to interviews, a voice recorder is far less intrusive than a video camera, and people are a lot more relaxed talking to you, so you get a much more genuine snapshot. It's also a lot quicker to edit audio together, which means you can publish your interviews pretty much instantaneously. I even love the blunders, giggles and slips of the tongue that come through on this kind of unedited publishing, because again it feels wonderfully real.

Having this mission at Barcamp proved a great ice-breaker, and I talked to many more people than perhaps I would have otherwise. I tried to steer the interviews by asking everyone 'what did you learn?'. It's quite easy to go through an event like this sucking up all the ideas and information, without ever stopping to consider what you're getting out of it, so I also hoped that posing this question would force people to stop and reflect. The results were fascinating, and it gave me an insight into lots of the sessions that I didn't attend.

It was a hugely enjoyable weekend and I met loads of wonderful characters. When I wasn't interviewing other participants, I sat in on lots of the talks, including mobile apps for museums, open access archiving of academic papers, learning to make bunting, running a hack day for teens, and a presentation on working practices to name but a few. In the evening I participated in the hilarious Peacehaven the Bored Game, more about which you can hear in the podcast below. And I also discovered, from some of the late night interviews, that I get awfully posh when I'm drunk. 

Here is the result of my experiment, which has been refined slightly since its debut broadcast at the end of Barcamp Brighton 7. I hope it inspires you to go to a Barcamp near you...

If you like this Barcamp Brighton podcast, you may also enjoy the ones that I did from Maker Faire and FSC Hack day this year, so I've embedded them below, too.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Discovering St Leonards-on-Sea

Although I grew up in Sussex and have spent many happy days pottering around Hastings Old Town and Bexhill seafront, until recently I had somehow avoided that elusive bit in between, St Leonards. I'd always assumed there was nothing much there to warrant a visit, then by chance we picked up a brochure from a Bexhill vintage market, promoting the supposed cultural delights of the neighbouring town.

One of the quirky things I love about that general part of the world is the hidden higgledy piggledy steps that weave up through the steep streets, bringing you out in unexpected locations. You'll come across similar ascending (or descending, depending on which end you start) passageways in Montmartre and San Francisco, but the East Sussex ones have a distinct flavour that somehow evokes Saxon adventure and smugglers' getaways. On a sunny Saturday in May we found one of these going up from St Leonard's seafront (next to the oldest motorbike shop in the country) and made our way in through the back streets, peering nosily into houses as we went.

The brochure recommended Norman Road and the 'Style Mile' as a place to find vintage and hand made clothes and home decor as well as good cafes, so we explored around there first and discovered a strip of interesting shops, that were pedalling everything from customised upcycled clothes to extortionately overpriced bits of old fairground rides. At the end of the strip, in the rather unimaginatively named 'Shop', we found retro trifle dishes, slinky summer dresses and a sprinkling of G-plan furniture, before crossing over spend a good half an hour rifling through vintage clothes at Xanadu.

Surely the ultimate test of a place is its tea and cake, and in this department we were spoilt for choice, with several decent looking eateries on offer. We chose Little Larder, next to Xanadu, to refresh after Ant's slightly traumatic experience of trying on an ill-fitting woollen suit on a hot summer's day (yes, we had some of those in May). The cake and coffee did the trick, and we bounced off to see what else St Leonards had to offer. Beyond Norman Road the attractions were fewer and farther between, as the arty vibe faded into rundown high street of tatty looking shops selling tatty old stuff. We did see a rather nice Art Deco wardrobe in the shabby (but not chic) flea market, but it was part of a set and they wouldn't let us buy it on its own. And so our St Leonards adventure drew to a close. 

A couple of weekends ago we returned in the evening to eat at the quite swish looking, and as it turns out, rather excellent St Clements restaurant, which is reason enough to venture to St Leonards, if my other accounts of the town have not been enough to entice you. It's one of those tucked away places that feels like a locals' secret, serving imaginative dishes at the more decadent end of Modern British cuisine. Although the vegetarian choice was limited, the elderflower and prosecco cocktails more than made up for it, as did the knee-tremblingly indulgent sticky toffee pudding for desert.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Great Escape 2012 - Tips for First Timers

It's almost time for the Great Escape Festival - my annual fix of musical discovery and quintessential Brighton jollity. This year I have completely failed to do any prep and find out what bands I might want to see (despite having access to Digby's handy Spotify playlist), which almost makes it more exciting, and means I have absolutely no preconceptions.

WATP, The Great Escape

It also means I can't offer you my hot tips for which bands are a must-see. But as a seasoned Great-Escaper, I can offer any first-timers some hints for getting the most out of the festival experience.
  • Don't ever queue. However much you want to see a band, there's always something else great going on elsewhere and queuing wastes valuable gig time. Even if it is a band you have wanted to see for ages, they will no doubt be touring again soon anyway, and queuing is not cool.
  • Enjoy the rest of the Brighton Festival. If you suffer from gig fatigue at any point, pop into some Open Houses to cleanse the cultural palate.
  • Use the free text update service. This hasn't been heavily promoted in recent years, but is a great way to find out about schedule changes and secret gigs, as well as helping you avoid gigs where there are queues. Apparently there's a smartphone app this year, too.
  • Always go to secret gigs - they can be the best kind of atmospheric happening and you might get to see some really exciting bands on their way up. We saw Foals in 2007 at a packed out, high-energy performance at the end of the pier and it was one of the best gigs of my life.
  • Don't forget to eat. Sometimes it feels like there's so much on offer that to spend an hour eating out is wasteful, but you must fuel up for moshing and trekking from venue to venue. I recommend Moshi Moshi and Pho as great, quick-but-not-fast-food central pit stops.
  • Take a notebook - because you will see a lot of bands and you won't remember who they were otherwise. 
  • Don't be put off by the venue. There are some real dives on the Great Escape circuit, but if the band is good enough, it will be a great gig. I saw Low Anthem in 2010 at the seedy Ocean Rooms, and they blew the walls off.
  • Enjoy hipster-spotting. Every year, all the hipsters in the world (or at least from East London) descend on Brighton for the Great Escape, with their resplendent ironic hairdos and over-sized retro specs. It is a feast for the eyes and an inspiration. If you want to join in and be one of the gang, visit Beyond Retro to stock up on vintage clobber
  • Don't shout stuff to your friend during a quiet folky gig (or any other gig for that matter), or I will punch you in the face.
That is all. Have fun. Say hi. Tell me how you got on.