It was a brief, but short-lived, love affair. A chance encounter online then, finally, a hurriedly-arranged reunion on Australian soil. The few weeks of anticipation dragged as my impatience rose and my expectations fell. How could it be the same as the last time I’d seen him, back in London, so many years ago? I warned myself not to let my hopes get the better of me.
The night came at last. It was the first time I’d set eyes on him in over fifteen years, and he hadn’t changed a bit. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, he had me from the first time he spoke.
I have to commence this post by stating that I am not a jazz aficionado, but when Orlando gets that excited about a gig, you know it is going to be worth it.
Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale assembled in Melbourne for the Return to Forever IV tour, and we were four rows from the front.
It was a distinctive crowd at the Forum, for this most exclusive of gigs. Carefully chosen outfits by men of a certain age. Long, flowing grey hair and meticulously trimmed beards. Shaven heads and goatees. A red bandana tied defiantly around an inevitably bald pate. A pork pie hat. At least one Marks-and-Spencer-style navy blue polo shirt. High-waisted pants. A safe pair of black jeans made completely illegal by being thrust into a pair of highly decorated cowboy boots. Black and white Rude Boy loafers. The odd glint of silver jewellery, inappropriate in a man of that age. At least one pair of glasses exactly like John Richardson’s funky old/new fogey ones.
And that was just the band.
I’d have to say I understood very little of what was going on, but I knew it was important. After a while I realised I was holding my breath. What these men were attempting (in fact, succeeding at) was far beyond anything I’ve ever seen attempted live. I have seen many incredibly talented individuals and bands playing live music, but I would have to say this was the cleverest group of musicians I have ever seen. This went beyond raw talent. This was like seeing a bunch of mathematicians live on stage, attempting to solve the Grand Unified Theory in parallel, reaching a crescendo of simultaneous mathematical prowess on a row of whiteboards, thus solving one of the greatest puzzles of our generation.
Lenny White seemed to toy with the rest of the band. The only one operating with no sheet music, he spent almost three hours on stage behind a complicated drum-kit driving the tempo wherever (it appeared) he wished. I could only guess at which segments were rehearsed and which were improvised. Stanley Clarke took centre stage with his bass guitars and double bass. He, of all of them, got the biggest reaction from the crowd whenever he took the musical lead. Chick Corea’s curly grey head bobbed up and down behind a barricade of keyboards, sometimes taking control, sometimes doing exactly as Clarke or White dictated.
I felt as if there was danger in the air. I felt as if I was watching a group of extreme acrobats performing without a safety net. My mind was exhausted from hard concentration, focusing myself to help them get to the finish line by sheer force of will.
It wasn’t a performance at one level, it was an exercise in survival. One of the most exciting musical events of my life.
Well, I am not sure if you are expecting Daniel O’Donnell or Enya, but here are some of the best Irish Christmas tunes of recent years.
- Christmas Countdown – Frank Kelly: those of you who are not Irish will know Frank Kelly as Father Jack from Father Ted. Worth listening right to the end, just for the insults.
- This Christmas – Funzo: this was the ultimate winner of the 2009 Christmas FM song contest. Reminds me of driving around Dublin city listening to Christmas FM on the radio, with all the Christmas lights shining in the dark, and Ashling and Connor in the back seat.
- Christmas Tree Song – Dustin the Turkey: Dustin is a famous Irish TV and radio personality. Yes, I realise he is a turkey puppet.
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2: From one of the Very Special Christmas albums.
- A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh: yes I know this appeared in another listing of mine, but it is one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time.
Have I missed anything?
Part two of my Christmas song odyssey – tunes that are perfect for Christmastime in the city. We have no sleigh-rides and often no snow, even in the northern hemisphere.
- Christmas In The City – Mary J. Blige: this reminds me of driving home from Lygon Street on a hot and steamy Christmas Eve night with Mena, the city lights shimmering as we cruise by with all the windows open.
- Christmas In Hollis – Run DMC: a classic track from the movie Die Hard. McClane asks Argyle the chauffeur if he has any Christmas music. Argyle replies: “This is Christmas music!”
- Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto – James Brown: nuff said.
- Fairytale of New York – The Pogues: the ultimate song from New York City. This song reminds me of the my first December away from home after emigrating in the recession of the late 80s. Every time I heard this song I cried.
- Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea: my strongest memory of this song is driving to Birmingham Airport from Leicester one wintry December evening, to fly home to Dublin for Christmas. Love that M42.
I was copied in on a meme today, about books I’ve read. The list didn’t seem right to me: for example listing Hamlet by Shakespeare alongside the Complete Works didn’t seem kosher in a BBC-originated list. So I sourced the original BBC Top 100 books in order of popularity (the public voted) and did that list as well as the original. The lists overlap a lot, but the first list looks a little illogical and the second (the original list) looks a lot more like a list of books the public actually voted for.
Books I’ve read are in bold, and part-read in italics. How do you far?
The Original Meme
INSTRUCTIONS: Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Copy this into your NOTES. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt. Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses!
1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
The Original: BBC’s Big Read
“In April 2003 the BBC’s Big Read began the search for the nation’s best-loved novel, and we asked you to nominate your favourite books. Below are all the results from number 1 to 100 in numerical order!”
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
Máiréad’s Total – 44
Genius. Civil rights activist. Legend.
Stevie Wonder came to town and we worshipped. I cannot believe I was in the same room as this giant.
From the first bars of Master Blaster, his first track, to the very last notes, or the last song I was enthralled. He changed the lyrics of Master Blaster, swapping an endorsement of Barack Obama for president for the sadly out-of-date words about peace in Zimbabwe.
Now in his late fifties, Wonder’s voice is still amazingly strong and powerful. He sounded better than he did as a teenager. Early in the piece he dedicated the concert to the late Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, who’d died the day before. He led a cover of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” which had the crown on their feet singing along.
His band was tight. The backing singers included his daughter Ayesha who performed solo part-way through the concert.
Hearing Wonder himself perform such songs as Sir Duke, Very Superstitious, and Higher Ground were some of the highlights of the year for me.