Saturday, 31 March 2012

Is this the best band on earth?

Low:The Great Destroyers
Agreed:pointless question, by all means.A rhetorical question that may serve us well as a starter when it comes to talk about the Duluth-based (Minnesota) trio Low,which have recently honoured us with an unforgettable live performance at Sala Capitol.With a musical career that stretches back to the early 90s, Low have a solid and faithful audience base that continues to grow as they keep churning out album after album of a delicately-crafted music that captivates new listeners who inevitably fall for the charms of this most peculiar band.That their albums are brilliant is a fact few people would disagree with;a careful listen to their latests effort (C'mon) confirms that they have reached a highly creative moment,one of a quiet and unassuming maturity.What I didn't know was how good they could be live.Very rarely a band achieves such level of perfection as Low did last Thursday;a mesmerising show, much to the delight of an almost full venue of loyal and devoted followers.Haunting music that flows naturally and almost effortlessly, filling the room with an air of expectation and restrained tension from the very first note.A pristine sound underpinned a perfect delivery that reached its climax, in my opinion, with the last song before the encore; a majestic version of Murderer from their 2007 album Drums and Guns, whose biblical resonances ('I've seen you pound your fist into the earth/and I've read your book/You may need a murderer/Someone to do your dirty work') made it even eerier and a fitting finale to a flawless performance.Equally fitting was the fact that my friend chose this so intense moment to go to the loo,just as Alan Sparhawk was singing 'You must have more important things to do'; clearly, he had.
They may or may not be the best band on earth (who am I to judge? and who cares anyway?) but Low are arguably one of the best acts around, at the very top of their game.Blessed are those who already know it.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Long Walk To Freedom

Exciting news today for anyone interested in the figure of Nelson Mandela; a digital archive ( ) containing a wealth of documents (photos, letters, notes...) related to the figure of the former South Africa president has just been launched.This means that these documents have been digitalised and are now available to anyone free of charge.This initiative is another step towards recognising a major contemporary figure that meant, and still means, so much for generations of people who see Mandela as the key figure in leading South Africa towards democracy and leaving behind the cruel and extremely unfair system devised by the white ruling elites in that country under the infamous name of apartheid.
Mandela's legacy and influence will be now, thanks to this project (funded by Google),be more accessible and immediate, thus contributing to keep alive Madiba's spirit and attitude to life. It may sound as a cliché but in these convulse and often bleak times,a towering figure like Mandela becomes even more inspiring and necessary, especially for those who are on their walk to freedom.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rock 'n Riots

For those living in the Northern Hemisphere,21 March means the official arrival of spring. Since 1999 it is also- I gather- World Poetry Day, so for those of you fond of poetry this is also an interesting day and another reason to celebrate. On top of that, every 21 March is specially celebrated by Kurdish, Iranian and other Central Asian communities as it marks the arrival of their New Year. I always thought that this was a pretty wise and exciting  way of starting a new year; celebrating the arrival of spring rather than winter seems to me much better and great fun too. 'Biji Newroz' to my Kurdish friends, if they are reading this. Plenty of things to write about but as this blog focuses on English-related stuff,  today T&S wants to write about one of those days where we look back and find that, on such a day sixty years ago, history was being made.Musical history,more precisely. In effect, the first ever official rock concert was staged on 21 March 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio, and it ended in chaos. A white radio DJ, Alain Freed and Leo Mintz, an African-American community leader, organised this pioneering event that attracted thousands of people, many of them without a ticket due to a printing mistake. 20,000 people for a venue that could hold half that number was a recipe for disaster. After a few songs, the event had to be cancelled but Rock 'n Roll  was already an unstoppable force.This revolutionary and sassy style was gathering pace and supporters at great speed. Rock 'n Roll was about to leave the fringes and become a social phenomenon soon.
For younger generations, it may hard to believe that at the time of the Red Scare in the US, Rock n' Roll was considered  blasphemous and undesirable by the authorities.
21 March 1952 laid the foundations for what we now take for granted: gigs, festivals,stardom, merchandising and everything that goes with the world of rock music. A far cry from what happened all those years ago in that event named Moondog Coronation Ball.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Out of print

Recent news about the Encyclopedia Britannica president's announcement of the company's decision to stop publishing the paper version may have come as a surprise to many but mostly because of how long it took them to conclude that time had arrived.Granted, ditching a centuries old paper-based encyclopedia is not a decision to take lightly but it'd become obvious that publishing something of this calibre (in size and cost, I mean) had to be, at the very least, reconsidered.
The Britannica, which was first published in the late 18th century, acquired over time the authority and respect that made it a solid reference within, and beyond, the English-speaking world. Those heavy and glossy books contained everything that was worthwhile knowing.A source of information for generations. But 32 books graciously bound and edited don't come cheap. Luckily, children whose families couldn't afford buying this printed mammoth would be able to quench their thirst of knowledge in schools and public libraries.
It remained an invaluable educational tool whose authority was rarely- if ever- questioned, being quoted and cited in countless occasions; a purveyor of knowledge and a gate to a wealth of information. But that was then and things started to quickly change with the arrival of the Internet; suddenly, information could be obtained with the click of a mouse and people, understandably, started to ponder whether it would be sensible  to continue paying large sums of money when they could get up-to-date information on their computer/tablet/smartphone screens. The Britannica was slow to grasp this and a couple of young entrepreneurs beat them at their own game by creating a free and collaborative online encyclopedia (yes, that one)...and the rest is history. The Britannica website ( is now a very good resource with both a free and a paying version; it is accessible and easy to navigate, with interesting features (eg videos) that improve your search.There will be people who no doubt will miss the printed version but this seems to be a sound and practical move.

Monday, 12 March 2012

TED:food for thought

Amid the flurry of depressing news we are fed every day (corruption, incompetence and abuse of power- courtesy of the political and economic elites- unemployment, spending cuts, the ever-growing class gap, wars, drought...) it is almost- or at least it should be- compulsory to find a 'breathing space' against this confusing and terrifying spiral;more than ever, I think that we are desperately in need of reasons to be cheerful and try to keep an optimistic outlook on the world.I often find my share whenever I come across passionate people oozing talent and that 'can-do' attitude; they are the people who make the world go round, to paraphrase The Stylistics.
I was reminded of all that last weekend thanks to the TEDx event organised in London by the UK's oldest Sunday paper, The Observer.
If you haven't heard about TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, it is definitely worth checking their website (;dating back to the mid-eighties, this not-for-profit project aims to spread ideas that are worth...spreading. Hundreds of videos covering an amazingly wide range of topics are available on the project's website so I'll leave it to you to visit it and discover it and hopefully be inspired by any of these videos. A warning though, it may cause addiction...
TEDx organise events throughout the world;one of them took place, as mentioned, in London at the Saddler's Wells theatre (this event could be followed live at the venue, on screens or as I did, online). It was a day packed with presentations and performances by people who coming from different backgrounds presented an array of initiatives and ideas that can only be classed as inspiring, brave and  forward-looking.Speakers and performers included, among others, singer-songwriter Plan B who presented his forthcoming documentary iLL Manors on the grim reality of gun culture, Hackney's community worker and 'heroine' from last summer's riots Pauline Pearce as well as Peter Lovatt and Alvaro Restrepo's work in Bogota's neighbourhoods in which dance is used as a creative tool to build self-esteem and fight exclusion.
In short, this was a day to feel optimistic and enthusiastic;a day where food for thought was indeed served and hopefully digested by the audience.Inspiration met action.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Emmeline Pankhurst: 'deeds not words'

As the world marks today International Women's Day, here at T&s we will also have our own small event with the screening of a fabulous film (Made in Dagenham) that highlights the struggle of a group of women who were working at a factory and fought for equal pay in the 60s. Long before that fight, there were many other ones throughout the world; this post wants to celebrate the figure of a woman whose legacy is today acknowledged as helping to raise awareness about society's injustices towards women. Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and suffragette who created and led the Women's Social and Political Union, a movement that defended and carried out civil disobedience acts; she took part in different hunger strikes and travelled widely, campaigning for women's equality and of course the right to vote. For some, Pankhurst remains a controversial figure not only because of her tactics but also her late defence of the British Empire and its values. That aside, it seems clear that Pankhurst was a pivotal figure whose influence towards the creation of a feminist movement and conscious has to be recognised and praised.
So let's raise our mug (or cup) and toast to all the women who have and are doing their bit towards a fairer society.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Chuggers of the world unite

...And hand over your badges. 
This is a good one for a rant as I'm pretty sure most people will agree.An article published recently in The Guardian prompted me to write about one of those modern trends that everyone seems to hate and yet, after some years now, is still there, much to city-centre visitors and retailers' annoyance. I'm talking about(you may have guessed) the almost universally despised 'chugger'; this word is a neologism that has recently entered the dictionaries and it is used -mostly derogatorily- to describe or refer to charity street fundraisers. The word itself is a blend of the words charity and mugger.
Chuggers are easy to spot: they are mostly smiley and loud young people, wearing badges and colourful charity polyester jackets who will go after their targets by all possible means (I've seen chuggers following passers-by down a busy street shouting and gesturing in quite intimidating ways).
Coincidentally, on the same day I read the mentioned article I- once again - was approached by one of them, thus forcing me to-once again - put in place my now well-learnt and rehearsed strategy to smartly deal with chuggers: make eye contact and with half a smile, simply but firmly say 'sorry, I'm running late to a meeting'. Amazingly, this seems to work and normally the chugger will leave me alone and even wish me a nice day.
Other people, fed up with being disturbed so often in rather rude ways,have taken a more aggressive approach and I don't blame them.
What I fail to understand though, is how any charity can see this as a way of promoting and raising awareness about whatever cause they defend. Most people dislike being patronised and treated the way some charity 'volunteers' act and a quick visit to forums and sites where the topic is discussed confirmed this perception.People don't seem to appreciate their presence and attitude, if those forums and articles are to be believed. 
Some charities argue that street fundraising is a way of reaching a public they wouldn't otherwise. That is fair enough but I wonder if a few new sign-ups offset the hugely negative publicity that this 'in your face' strategy is giving them. 
Some UK city councils (Burnley, Rugby and Gloucester among others) have already or are considering taking steps to either reduce or regulate the presence of charity workers on their streets.
So, will we see one day all the chuggers of the world handing their badges over?
Would it be worth trying other strategies? I suggest they set up a small stall and offer a  nice cup of tea and a bit of sympathy instead...that would surely be a better approach, don't you think?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Go west, young man...

It is not very often that a book grabs my interest in such a way as John Steinbeck's  The Grapes of Wrath did when I read it a few months back. So much has been said and written about this masterpiece that any attempt at giving any thoughtful insight is bound to either sound pretentious, clichéd or both.
But what really struck me about  this great book was the fact that, though published in 1939, it felt as though it were depicting a very contemporary story. The Joads' hardships and their odyssey in search of El Dorado could be (and it has been) retold in countless occasions and circumstances, whenever a migrant community falls victim to rapacious and benefit-led people; by following the adventures of the Joads, you will find yourself with a story that is depressingly similar to what we daily read and witness in many parts throughout the world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly- giving the fact that the book is a direct denunciation of the consequences of unregulated and wild capitalism- The Grapes of Wrath was criticised by some people when it was first published; it was accused of having socialist leanings*  and a smear campaign was orchestrated by politicians and the media. Again, this sounds all too familiar and similar cases happen every so often, whenever an inconvenient truth is aired.
Today, individuals and families find themselves in similar situations; the current financial meltdown offers no perspective and migration is the only option left again for many people in these bleak times. A new generation is on the move and, almost a century later, things are not much different to what the Joads went through. Remember the 'we are the 99% campaign'?
John Ford's film based on the book has contributed to further the book's popularity, thus giving faces to the different family members we get to know so well. Bruce Springsteen also wrote a song with his own lyrics inspired by this universal story for his 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad ('I'm sitting down here in the campfire light/ Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad').
It is not an easy read and it won't have you laughing out loud  but it is as relevant, haunting and poignant as it was in 1939. To me, that is the true sign of a major piece of art. A must-read, if you ask me.
*Source: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism ©2003 Gale Cengage

Friday, 2 March 2012

Make us a brew, Mr Scruff!

Credit where is due. If we are going to be serious and consistent about this tea-drinking business, I think it is only fair to acknowledge and thank those who have been on the front line, relentlessly promoting and defending a culture and way of life ('life tastes better with a nice cup of tea' is one of my mottos) that, it would appear, has found a new and unexpected travelling companion in the form of those atrocious café chains that have sprung up like mushrooms over the last decade or so;if you have found yourself in any UK's high street, surrounded by smart and busy people drinking coffee out of large mugs with sophisticaded Italian names, you'll know what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, I love coffee as much as the next person and I think that drinking coffee and tea are absolutely compatible habits but... I am quite wary of this new trend that all of sudden has made drinking coffee in those unbelievably impersonal cafés an enjoyable experience.
Thanks to people like Mr. Scruff, I have the feeling that drinking tea is not only 'cool' or fashionable or's actually the right thing to do!
So credit to this Manchester-born Dj, cartoonist and self-confessed tea drinker who has been spreading the 'gospel' for over a decade now; you may or may not like his music (a sort of electronic base with loads of other styles added to the brew) but there is something that makes  his shows irresistible and that is because of the visuals projected, adding a plus of originality and quirkiness that has won him over loyal audiences accross the UK and beyond.  I mean,what can be more charming that the sight of a DJ duly crafting his set with a nice cup of tea next to him?
To make things even better (or should I say tastier), whenever he plays at a festival, he sets up a tent where people can buy stuff such as tea (organically produced), t-shirts, mugs, tea you can become a proud member of the 'make us a brew' gang! If you can't catch him live, you  can (you must!) visit his online shop (
But now that the the weekend is knocking on the door, I should stop rambling, grab a cuppa, turn up the volume and play 'Get a move on'  and go wherever my feet may take me. I humbly but firmly advise you to do the same. 'You better keep moving or you'll be left behind'.