Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alternative Evensong

Lambchop, St George's Church, Kemp Town, 29th October 2008
Around this time last year I wrote about an Iron & Wine gig at which the polite heckle "that was brilliant, thanks!" amusingly summed up the typical contingent at Brighton's loveliest music venue, St George's Church in Kemp Town. Last night we were back at our local house of worship to venerate before Nashville legends Lambchop, at a buzzy but surprisingly not sold out show. Eccentric crooner Kurt Wagner and his mightily accomplished band took a bold risk by reeling off their latest album in its entirety - a rite (as they themselves admitted) usually reserved for classic works by iconic rockers. But it was the perfect setting in which to pull off such a move - the courteous middle class crowd sitting in quite reverence, gracefully accepting the new material, then exploding into appreciative applause on cue. Wagner seemed genuinely touched and surprised at how well it went down, and rewarded us with an extended encore of old favourites plus an unexpected and utterly genius cover of Talking Heads' 'Once in a Lifetime'.



I can't speak for the rest of the audience, but personally I hadn't had a chance to give the new album a listen before the gig - it had only been out a week or so before I disappeared to Hungary. I've always enjoyed the laid-back introspective offerings of Lambchop's previous (and prolific) material, but was pleasantly surprised at the more upbeat selection played last night - loungy and soulful, and peppered with the usual country and post-rock influences, it certainly tickled my own particular musical taste buds. It's not often you get to hear a new album for the first time in this context, and it felt like a rare privilege indeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back in Blighty

This time yesterday I was eating marzipan flavoured ice cream from a little backstreet gelateria in Venice (jealous?). It was the last day of an all-too-brief holiday following on from my Hungarian dental excursion - more about both to follow. We didn't have internet access during the holiday bit, which meant I couldn't blog as I went, but it was actually very relaxing to step away from the laptop and live in the 'real world' for a few days. A tiresome sleazyjet flight got us home late last night, and it was straight back to the office this morning, with the usual mountain of emails awaiting. I've yet to shed that post-holiday chilled feeling though - all I have to do is close my eyes and picture the glistening Adriatic sea and I am right back on that idyllic Croatian coast (sigh). It will probably wear off by the end of the week, but I may as well enjoy the buzz while it lasts. Oh, and in case you were wondering, my new teeth are settling in nicely. I would post photographic evidence, but I despite several attempts, we have been unable to capture a toothy-smiled picture of me in which I don't look like a complete loon. I guess I'm more of a natural pouter.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One More Day

Going to bed last night I felt like a small child on Christmas eve - knowing that the next day I would get my shiny new teeth installed at last. This morning we took the now familiar walk down to Dr Ten, only to discover that the dentist was not 100% happy with the bite of my implants and other crowns, and would need to make a few minor adjustments before the final fitting - so I have to go back again tomorrow.

After all the build-up, I was a little disappointed, but then having waited over a year to get to this point, another 24 hours doesn't seem like much, and I'm glad that they are making a thorough job of it. We stopped for a compensatory cup of tea and a cake on the way back to the apartment, where Ant made a much more moderate choice than yesterday's gargantuan confection (pictured). I think he's finally realising that biggest is not necessarily best when it comes to cakes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Road to Recovery: The Final Stretch

Last time I was here in Hungary I never wrote about my experiences, because it was all too traumatic, and anyway, I was far too worn out to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard). I came in April of this year for the first stage of dental implants, and various other repairs to my teeth, following a nasty bicycle accident the previous August. Like many other Brits, I was forced to take the 'dental tourism' route because the NHS would only provide dentures, and I would have had to re-mortgage my flat in order to pay for implants privately in the UK. So here I am, back in the little provincial town of Hódmezõvásárhely (pronounced Hod-mez-oh-varsha-hey), a couple of hours south of Budapest, on Hungary's Great Plain. It's not somewhere you would choose to come for a holiday, lacking as it does any real attractions or activities, but is a pleasant enough spot in which to convalesce. We're staying in a comfy little apartment right near the main town square, close to all the amenities, and only a short walk from the dentists' surgery.

As I write this, Ant is off swimming (or more likely laying around in a jacuzzi) at the thermal baths around the corner. I would have joined him, but am not allowed to submerge my head under water at this stage of treatment, which makes swimming far less enjoyable for me. Thankfully, the most invasive part of the implant process is now over, and tomorrow I will have the prosthetic teeth attached, followed by a few days of check-ups and tweaks, before (hopefully) the whole ordeal is behind me. Unlike the last visit, which involved several days of sleeping off sedation and coping with uncomfortable stitches in my mouth, I have been able to get out and about a bit more this time. The weather has been extremely mild, and even though the trees are in full autumnal swing, it feels more like summer by British standards. Next week we are due to travel by train to the north Croatian coast for a little celebratory holiday, during which I plan to eat my bodyweight in pizza, and do very little else. I think I deserve it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nine Years of Togetherness

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my first date with Ant, and an excuse (as if we needed one) to drink Champagne (well, Prosecco actually) and reminisce about our courtship. It all began back at Waterstone's in Brighton, where we were both working in the summer of '99 - me on the ground floor in Biography and he right up the top in Computing. It's no secret that I thought he was gay when we first met - the bleached hair, loud shirts and obsession with shoes seemed to suggest as much. But after he returned from walking down to Cornwall for the eclipse, newly shorn, tanned and buff, I was eager to find one way or the other, and initiated some flirty chats over cups of tea in the staff room.

It took him a few weeks to ask me out, and even then it was a casual 'I've got a couple of passes to this magazine launch with free gin, fancy coming along?' I was living in Eastbourne at the time, so arranged to stay with some old friends in Hove, and agreed to meet him at the Ha Ha Bar, opposite the Pavilion. It was the one and only time he arrived before me for a date, and I can still picture him sitting casually on the back of a bench, wearing a green Komodo shirt and his pea jacket, grinning as I walked up to greet him. Bombay Sapphire was flowing (literally) freely inside - I don't even like gin, but on a bookseller salary you couldn't afford to turn down free booze, and I think we were both in need of some Dutch courage. There were no seats available, so we found ourselves a cosy windowsill to sit on, and stayed there chatting until closing time.

Mobile phones were still a novelty back then, and we used that as an excuse to exchange numbers. I seem to remember he had a shiny silver one and mine was a burgundy housebrick with big rubber buttons - I still have it in a drawer somewhere. The only conversation I remember distinctly was a debate over what sort of dog the Littlest Hobo was (it's a German Shepherd, in case you're wondering) - which resulted in a bet being waged by which the loser had to treat the other to dinner at Al Fresco. Clearly this was some sort of cunning plan on his part to ensure that we went on another date - though I don't think we ever did resolve the dispute, so one of us must still owe the other a meal.



Not wanting the night to end, we took advantage of guest list places on offer at the Honey Club, and wandered down to the seafront via the Lanes. Our first kiss was whilst dancing on a podium together; my stomach still flutters to remember it (too much gin perhaps). After the club we sat on the beach until we really couldn't put off going home any longer (we both had work the next day), and I floated off back to Hove, while he headed for his place on Whippingham Road.

A few more dates ensued before it became 'official' - around the same time that he left Waterstone's to start a job working in New Media in London. We moved to London together the following February and spent a year living in Streatham before the lure of the sea brought us back to Brighton, where we have remained ever since. Like any long-term couple, we've had our ups and downs, but when I look back over our relationship it's mostly laughter and adventure I recall. So many fun holidays - India, New Zealand, Sweden, France and Belgium (to name but a few), all those illustrious parties, getting married and buying a flat, adopting our lovely mogs; the list of happy memories is a long and ever-growing one. I'll drink to that!

Monday, October 06, 2008

More Than a Little Bit: Lykke Li live at Concorde2

Born out of a distinctly camp musical heritage that boasts Abba, Roxette and Ace of Base as its biggest names, blossoming starlet Lykke Li boldly reinvents preconceptions about Swedish pop, without entirely turning her back on those kitsch musical roots. I was originally turned onto LL by one of my new friends (thanks Chantille!) in the woods at Latitude, but failed to catch her set there because I was dragged to Julian Cope instead (and what a let down that was). I bought the album on the back of the recommendation though, and absolutely loved it. Then last Thursday I finally got to see her live, at the Concorde 2 in Brighton. It was a really buzzy occasion, heaving with Brighton hispters, and filled with that sense of privileged anticipation you get when you know you are in on the start of something big.

Strikingly statuesque and classically Nordic in looks, Lykke Li exudes a maturity and sincerity beyond her 22 years as she strides confidently around the stage in hotpants and baggy top, ironic bling jangling. Though her repertoire is currently limited to one album's worth of songs, she delivers these, plus a couple of obscure cover versions (including Wendy Renee's 'After Laughter') with accomplished conviction, and the promise of more delights to come. Deftly executed catchy pop hooks and minimalist electro arrangements make this irresistibly infectious listening, and soon the whole room is bopping along. There are quieter moments too, with tenderly voiced bittersweet love songs like 'Little Bit' tugging the heartstrings of those of us who recall the naive uncertainty of post-adolescent romances. Clearly the two blokes in front of us never experienced this, as they continue to shout at the top of their voices throughout, until Brian puts his teacher hat on and gives them a right ticking off. Go Brian! But apart from such minor annoyances, it was an excellent gig. Even the support band, Micachu, were pretty good, mixing up Bluesy sentiments with laptop jiggery-pokery and live Samba rhythms to intriguing effect.

Of course, Lykke Li isn't the only one to be making Swedish music cool again (check out the wigdet below for further recommendations), but she is doing it particularly well. I'm not saying it's challenging or even very sophisticated listening; just highly listenable pop - if quirky female electro-pop in the Goldfrapp/Feist/Camille vein is your thing, then you will love Lykke Li.