Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Pixie Revelation

I spend almost all of my lunch breaks just pottering around Lewes - popping into its many excellent charity shops, and such eccentric local institutions as Mays General Store, Bill’s and Tizz’s, where one can easily waste a good 20 minutes window shopping. Very occasionally, I will venture into one of the few *shock horror* high street shops that are actually a rarity here, where many of the businesses are, amazingly, still local and independent. Yesterday I was in one of the high street shoe shops, harbouring a vague notion about new boots (don’t get your hopes up Ant), when I was amused to discover that pixie boots are back in fashion. I can distinctly remember my first pair of these 80s classics, as it was also the year (1985 I think) when I discovered that Father Christmas was less flesh-and-blood actual being, more parentally-executed benevolent concept (or so it was rather sweetly explained to me by my kind and inventive mother). I discovered this because those much-coveted pixie boots (black suede, with tassels, oh yes), delivered as I thought by Santa, all the way from Lapland, had to be exchanged in a high street shoe shop in Eastbourne, thanks to my ever-expanding 10 year old feet. My suspicions had of course already been raised by playground rumours and an ever-developing sense of cynicism, but this was the moment when the penny finally dropped and I resigned myself to the disappointing truth. So I will always associate pixie boots with the end of childhood magic, and the beginning of rational adulthood. Rather ironic when you think about it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

An Obsession Explored

I was supposed to be having a quiet day on Saturday. I'd even done all my usual weekend chores on Friday night, so that I could just sleep in and laze about all of the next day, and recharge my batteries in anticipation of a big night that evening. To be fair, I did get the much-needed lie-in, but then woke to a voicemail from Jen asking for help with her costume for the aforementioned party (Matty's housewarming). She had decided to go as Janis Joplin (the theme being famous dead people) and wanted to rifle through my dressing up box for hippyish accessories.

There seems to be a fancy dress party at least once a month in Brighton, and it gets harder and harder to better one's previous efforts, especially when, like me, you have a reputation for going all-out. As a self-confessed fancy dress fanatic, I have built up a decent collection of costumes and accessories over the years, and have become the unofficial wardrobe mistress to my comrades, who invariably turn to me for help when inspiration and wherewithal are lacking. So I wasn't entirely surprised when Jen's call turned out to be the first of many, meaning that my supposedly restful day instead became punctuated by a string of visitors and frantic trying-on sessions.

Luckily I had sorted out my own attire well ahead of time – I already owned a suitable wig, and had found the most perfect Karen Carpenter (Seventies era) frock on ebay. I'm really not complaining about the disruption to my envisaged tranquility, in fact there's nothing I like more than putting a costume together and watching a character come to life before me (cue maniacal Dr Frankenstein laugh). It's incredibly satisfying looking round a room full of fabulous, flamboyant, and sometimes disturbing party-goers, knowing that the credit is at least partly yours.

It turned out to be an excellent night, and most people had made a big effort to look convincingly like their chosen deceased, who included: Frank Zappa (Ant), Jimi Hendrix (David), Steve Irwin (Stewart), Dick Turpin (Matty), Janis Joplin (Jen), Mae West (Alice), Marylin Monroe (Charlotte), Paula Yates – complete with baby (Harriet), Jim Morrison (Sheldon), Random Suicide Bomber (Dave), Freddie Mercury (Ross), Jackie Onasis (Abbi), Klaus Kinski (Tim), Cleopatra (Nikki), John Bonham (Damien – who looked SO weird with long hair) and, disturbingly, Myra Hindley (Tania) - apologies if I've forgotten anyone on this weird and wonderful role-call. I did a turn on the decks – naturally playing only tunes sung by dead people - and we were also treated to some live music from Barulho, and an as yet unnamed gypsy klezmer band. Most people guessed my costume once I'd prompted them with a line or two of “Close to You” – although I did get accused of looking like some kind of Hammer Horror freak on more than one occasion, though to be fair, so did Karen Carpenter in her more emaciated periods.

Damien, Tim and Me, as you've never seen us before

Every time another costume bash comes up, and I get that giddy tingle of anticipatory excitement, I ask myself from whence this obsession of mine came. I can certainly put it partly down to my theatrical upbringing – both my parents were in professional theatre, and I used to love playing with the various costume cast-offs that made their way into the family dressing up box.

My sister Megan and I would often adorn ourselves and put on plays for our parents and their friends (who were always very good about humouring us), and so I learned from an early age how much fun reinventing yourself can be. Then along came the wonderful Mr Benn – one of my very favourite children's TV characters - whose visits to the fancy dress shop sparked no end of exciting escapades, reinforcing the idea that dressing up equals adventure.

Some of my earliest fancy dress costumes (invariably made from scratch by my talented and creative mother) included Cinderella, Pierrette, one of the Three Kings (for which I was made to black-up!) and the Queen Mother – for Charles and Diana's wedding street party. Then when my 18th birthday came up, I decided to throw what turned out to be the first of many fancy dress parties of my own, the most memorable of which include Moulin Rouge, Gay Icons, Wild West, Bitches & Baddies, and most recently, Seasick! I have thrown non-costume parties too, but I always find that being dressed up gives things a jollier atmosphere, breaks the ice between strangers, and makes the photographs much more interesting.

I'll admit that it does nettle me when people turn up to a clearly labelled 'fancy dress' party in their normal clothes. Call me a fancy dress fascist (I won't deny it), but my good friend Neel will back me up here, in agreeing that to appear at such soirées in 'civvies' is frankly impolite, it makes everyone else feel uncomfortable, and breaks the magic for those of us who like to immerse ourselves in the experience. To put it into perspective, you wouldn't turn up to a black tie ball in trainers and jeans, or walk into a historical re-enactment in modern day clothes, and still expect to be included, would you?

I accept that not everyone enjoys dressing up as much as me, and so am never offended if they choose not to come along for that reason. But, like any team game or hobby, it only really works if everyone joins in. Luckily, lots of my friends in Brighton do love dressing up (nearly as much as me), hence the regular merry-go-round of themed parties, and those inevitable 'fancy dress SOS' phone calls. Maybe it's time I started charging for my services, or at least demanding compensation of the chocolate variety – “will lend wigs for Mingles” - I like that.


Paula, Natalie, Megan & Me - an early fancy dress outing as St Trinians on Red Nose Day

Friday, January 25, 2008

Adventures in Post-Rock: Explosions in the Sky at Concorde 2

A while ago I mentioned one of my new favourite bands Do Make Say Think, having just purchased their latest offering, You You're a History in Rust, which has since become one of my most consistently listened-to albums. In a similar vein to DMST are Explosions in the Sky, a Texan instrumental four-piece whose rousing cinematic style falls into the so-called 'post-rock' category. While I'm not usually inclined to pigeon-hole anything, least of all music, there has been a distinct, if accidental, movement emerging over the last ten years or so, which can be loosely traced back to quirky jazz-electro-proggers Tortoise. A refreshing contrast to much of the bland and vacuous indie bands currently invading the airwaves, the absence of any vocals makes this style of music both absorbing and anonymous, and often more deeply affecting than even the most poignant of lyrics. Like classical music for the rock generation, the listener is encouraged to drift off on personal flights of fancy, rather than being drawn vicariously into the singer’s projected experiences. I can feel myself about to launch into a major rant at this point, but will refrain from doing so, as I believe the music speaks for itself. I had originally only intended to post the above picture, taken at Concorde 2 on Wednesday night, where the afrorementioned Explosions in the Sky delivered a spine-tingling live performance to a rapt audience, from which I left feeling both bruised and exhilarated. Oh, and they also had really cool and unusually subtle band T-shirts on sale, so I bought one for Ant, as compensation for the fact that he couldn't make it to the gig, as he was in Brussels.

Recommended Listening


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What, No People?

After spending all of Saturday night photograhing pirates and wenches (see previous post), I was less than enthusiastic about doing my landscape photography homework on Sunday, ready for my second class of the course. I find it hard to inject energy into a composition without people, or at the very least, animals in it. But I am enthusiatic about learning to use my camera, and becoming a better photographer, so understand that this is all part of the process. To make matters even more difficult, the weather was pretty dire all weekend, the Downs shrouded in fog, and everything remotely landscapey looking rather grey and dull. My best bet was to head for the woods, where I might at least find some interesting textures, and hopefully some moss, to inject a bit of colour into my shots. So we drove out past Lewes, armed with the OS map, and took a chance on the first bit of accesible woodland, which happened to be near Chailey. It was certainly more colourful in the woods - the damp weather making everything look lush and vibrant. There was moss aplenty, of every kind, and some striking orange lichen to boot. I even managed to snap some lively geese, though unfortunately that particular photo was out of focus. It was frustrating not being able to delete the duff shots, but again, a good discipline to observe, enabling one to analyse what went wrong afterwards. Out of the 20 shots, I was really only content with one of them, though the rest were mostly OK. Our next assignment is 'urban landscapes', which I guess could be interpreted in a number of ways - I suppose at least one is more likely to see actual people in an urban setting! So, while I put some thought into potential locations for my next project, here's the one half decent snap I took on Markstakes Common:


Monday, January 21, 2008

Born Pirate

Piratechno, Komedia, 19th Jan 08

Last Friday was set to be my big comeback into the world of clubbing, after a protracted absence since the accident. I'd been psyching myself up all week, all month in fact, for a girlie evening of cocktails and dancing at Brighton's best retro night, Born Bad at Komedia. But my immune system had other ideas - landing me with yet another stinking cold and having to cancel my plans at the last minute. I was relieved, if a little frustrated, that said cold had conveniently disappeared by Saturday morning (why couldn't it have abated just one night earlier?!). But thankfully all hope of a sociable weekend was not completely lost - and I set about digging out my corset and stripes for a pirate-themed night hosted by swashbuckling troubadours, Piratechno. Boasting genuine pirate blood (according to my stepmother, the genealogist), my fondness for all things piratical runs deep, and I never feel more at home than with a bottle of rum in my hand, decked out in the flamoyantly theatrical clobber popularly associated with these sea-faring fiends (see previous evidence here and here). I was delighted to discover a whole room full of equally enthusiatically-garbed punters skulking around the suitably dingy back bar at Komedia, making me feel instantly at home. Being armed with a conspicuous camera in a room full of exhibitionists always seems to be a great way of making friends, so there I was - snapping away, occaisionally stopping to have a jig along with the crazy dancing wenches - utterly in my element, thinking, 'why can't every night be Pirate Night?'

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back to School

It'll be ten years this summer since I graduated from university, and apart from the odd work training course, I've done little in the way of formal learning since those happy years studying at Roehampton. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to find myself re-entering the pedagogical environment last night, for the first class of my photography course at Varndean college. I'd signed up last year, after giving in to the digital revolution and getting myself a swanky Nikon D40x digital SLR camera - having been previously happy with my trusty old Olympus OM10 (which I do still use by the way). My recent foray into gig photography necessitated the change, and having access to endless photographic books and magazines via my work, I was eventually convinced to make the transition. Overwhelmed by the amount of functions and unused potential of the new digital beast, I went in search of help online, and stumbled across an evening class entitled 'Creative Digital SLR Photography' which seemed absolutely perfect for my needs. I also let my friend and flickr buddy Shaun know about the course, as he'd recently acquired a Canon EOS 350D, and felt, like me, that he wasn't making the best use of it (although I happen to think that his photos are already far superior to mine - partly because he's also more savvy with the photoshop trickery!). Our first lesson was mostly a general introduction to the course, and a chance for the teacher to assess what people were hoping to get from it, but already I'm feeling inspired, and raring to get snapping for our first assignment. We've been tasked with taking 20 photos, in succession, with no editing or deleting - the subject being 'landscape'. This is a slightly intimidating prospect for me, being much more of a people photographer, but I shall certainly rise to the challenge with new-found enthusiasm. Meanwhile, here's a rare landscape snap of mine from a recent holiday, taken in the picturesque town of Bouillon, Belgium, first thing in the morning:



More photos from our wonderful pre-Christmas jaunt can be seen on my flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157603558215940

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bad Tapas

After so much hardcore partying over the festive season, I was quite relieved when Jo decided to opt for the more civilised option of a sit down meal for her birthday celebrations at the weekend. Her first choice - the wonderfully rustic Casa Don Carlos in the Lanes - was fully booked, so she’d taken a chance on Pinxto People, a swish-looking upmarket tapas place on Western Road. Intrigued by its modern take on traditional Spanish food, and impressed with the stylish décor, we were keen to sample the fayre. Sadly it seemed that the staff were not so eager to satisfy our expectations, and were officious to the point of rudeness from the outset. Challenging our ability to choose our own dishes and trying to pressure us into accepting their own selection (at a suggested £40 a head) our waiter immediately put our collective backs up – perhaps not realising what a feisty bunch of discerning foodies he was dealing with. His second mistake was in withholding our wine until seeing fit to refill our glasses – a situation we soon rectified in an amusing covert operation that involved whisking the bottle from a neighbouring table when no one was looking, and stashing it under the table. All very entertaining, but not necessarily what one would expect to occur during a supposedly slap-up meal. When our food finally arrived, there was a general disbelief at the size of portions, bearing in mind that most of the meat dishes came in at around £12.

Style over substance

My veggie options were limited (admittedly more so by my ongoing dental problems), and my chosen ‘Txick (get it?) peas and fake txorizo (groan) with goat cheese’ resembled nothing more than a tin of chick peas poured onto a plate and vaguely seasoned, with a tiny blob of cheese at each corner - and tasted just as disappointing. The others were generally unimpressed with their meat and fish choices, which were on the whole a classic case of style over substance. I am not against the idea of experimental cuisine in principle, but it can be tricky to pull off, especially with something as traditionally comforting as tapas. Give me the rustic dishes and cheerful staff at Casa Don Carlos or La Tapa De Oro (previously Ipanema) any day. Minimalist tapas just doesn’t work. Post dinner cocktails at Koba across the road helped raise everyone’s spirits after such an unsatisfactory dining experience, and the company at least was consistently excellent all night.