On constraints. Marcuse, Bach and Scriabin.

This time of the year tends to be a time of excess.

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.

This is a quote from Herbert Marcuse, a German philosopher.  I rather like it, but I’ve never really been comfortable with the term “the people.”  After all, the same affliction affects me too. This is a first person issue, other than the kitchen equipment:  I’m with the Hitch, but there is a part of me that really likes stuff.

Here is my newly discovered antidote; two piano pieces.  The first one, by Bach, I have known for some time.  Here is James Rhodes’ version.

The other, I discovered via the serendipity that is the side bar in YouTube. I’d not heard of either Scriabin or Filjak til this evening.

A Nocturne by  Scriabin,  played by  Martina Filjak.

Both pieces are just for the left hand.  Sometimes less is more.  


Seattle, Stuttgart and the Parlotones.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Seattle for a series of work meetings, and by happy coincidence, a South African band, the Parlotones were in town.  They fill stadiums in SA, so seeing them in a smaller venue was an opportunity not to be missed.  Here they are at the World Cup opening ceremony.

I pinged my mate Mark, and we headed out to the Showbox SoDo.  Not only was this a smaller venue, but they were warm up band for Blue October.

If a South African band plays anywhere, the Diaspora emerges. Seattle was no different. There was a small but raucous SA crowd mingled in with the Seattlean, who were keen for Blue October (who are indeed good too).

The Parlotones played a short set, mainly from the current album, but by the end they had converted the Seattle audience into fans.  They rocked.  I predict that they will have a number one on the US charts before very long. 


The band is now a firm favourite of mine. Their music is very tight, tinges  of OMD and The Killers,  REM,  Radiohead, maybe a faint whiff  of  The Cure too,  but somehow their own.  The lyrics are often clever, and  some of them quite dark.  Welcome to the Weekend, in particular,  strikes home, but this line from “Should We Fight back?” is well and truly stuck in my head.

Sip it slowly sweetness sometimes tempts us into the silly
Choked by cherry chocolate charm in a chariot of phony

I’m going to be seeing them again, this time in Stuttgart, this Saturday. As they are main act, I’m hoping they will have a longer set, and will dip into their older albums too.  As per Seattle, there will be Diaspora contingent.  We will be loud, louder than bombs.

Ngiyabonga kakhulu Johnny Clegg

Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night

I remember sitting around a campfire in the Umzimkulu valley about 30 years ago. I was in my first year of high school, and we were doing a kayak race, the Umzimkulu marathon. It was a clear African night, the Southern Cross bright and clear.  The older boys told tales of massive rapids and huge drops, and we cooked a sort of  breadlike substance  on the fire.  We were miles from any town or city.

The batteries on the cassette deck weren’t fresh, and the tape copy neither but Johnny Clegg’s music has been special to me ever since.

I saw his band (then called  Savuka) live at university. It it was 1986-7. He intertwined great music with a strong and clear political message. Asimbonanga. He rocked the Student’s Union, and changed the mindset of thousands.  South Africa’s political change owes much to Johnny Clegg.

Last night, with mates Phillip and Dean, I got see him live in Mainz.  The venue was packed and the audience a mix of Germans and a rather more rowdy South African Diaspora.

Johnny and his band gave it all, and the place rocked.  The band played hit after hit. His band were excellent, several of the members have been with him for decades. Johnny didn’t jump quite as high as he used to do (Guka ’mzimba), but his stage presence remains impressive, and the music is timeless.

Here he is with Juluka, back in the 1980’s

Thanks Johnny, for 30 years of great music and a fabulous evening.

Most of his albums are on itunes and emusic.  I downloaded an album that don’t have in my collection this morning, Ubuhle Bemvelo.

A Flock of Seagulls

Don’t ever give your heart to a stranger
Don’t tell your secrets to a friend
Don’t put your heart in mortal danger –
They all desert you in the end.
The more you live
the more you love.
Or so they say: The more you love
the more you throw it away.
They say that nothing lasts forever


(photo mine use under cc with attribution)

In 1985, while on hockey tour from South Africa, I visited my cousin in Nottingham. He had an excellent music collection, and he introduced me to all sorts of bands I’d not really heard much of back home in South Africa. I copied several albums with his rather fancy double cassette deck system, including the Flock of Seagulls’ albums. I clearly remember using brand new TDK D-90 cassettes, and carefully copying out the track names. Telecommunication, The More You Live, The More You Love, Remember David, Wishing. Using a new cassette was a sign of respect back then. 

A decade or so later I replaced the tapes by buying AFOS on CD, and I have since bought a few tracks online too.

Last night, in Weinheim, I saw them live in a cosy venue called Cafe Central. I paid 18 euros at the door. The place wasn’t packed, but  a number of folks turned out dressed in 80’s garb, hair and all. There were even a couple of punks. The band looked older, as we all do, and the famous hairdo was pinned back under a baseball cap. The sound was a bit more guitar, base and drums than it was in the 1980’s, but it was fun. Some of the line up had changed, but for about 90 minutes the place rocked. They played the hits and a couple of newer tracks, it was a fine evening. I would have even bought the t-shirt if they’d had one for sale.


(photo mine use under cc with attribution)

I’m sure that many of us have similar experiences with music, so as parliamentarians in various countries consider draconian 3 strikes and you are out type legislation for file sharing, perhaps they should look at their own musical collections. You could argue that I should have bought the AFOS albums in 1985, but if I remember correctly I had already spent my pocket money on Howard Jones’s Dream into Action

I’m wishing that the parliamentarians would read JP’s post.

Most people are law-abiding. Most people want to make sure that artists are rewarded. Sometimes laws are out of date and need changing. Sometimes business models are out of date and need changing.

I ‘ll leave you with a stanza from Telecommunication, AFOS’ hit song from 1981.

Video screen,
Silver page,
With a new calibration
For the nuclear age.