Tag Archives: Music

Camden Greed

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I don’t usually get caught up in what might be construed as political rhetoric, and I don’t think what I am about to say is as political as it is about greed. Ever since money became the way we do business, it has become the prize many have gone for no matter what has to happen to get it. We know it as greed, one of the 7 deadly sins offered up by Christendom, especially the Roman Catholic branch. The problem is, the more money a person or organisation accumulates, the more greed rears its ugly head. This includes the Church.

Well now, call it what you will, you can see evidence of it everywhere in today’s world. More and more. There are those who want nothing more than to get as much cash as possible to support a lavish lifestyle that is thought to be deserved. Maybe it is. But more often than not, it is to the expense of so many others’ wellbeing and involves some degree of chicanery and larceny on the part of the takers of this world to afford the kind of exclusivity they crave. Those and no conscience.

There is something to the old bartering system that remains essentially honest….for the most part. I’m sure some of those guys (and they were guys way back when) cheated the people they traded with. Greed is as old as time. Seems humanity has a touch of magpie or raccoon in it. Of course we would say that in the animal world this is instinct. For humans there is an element of this that has passed down through eons of evolution, but, in the end, we ought to know better. The old ‘do unto others’ golden rule you find in the good books of every culture was not written there by chance.

Lots of folk have forgotten that rule. The implementing of it shall save the human race. The abuse of it shall be our ruin. At the moment, all signs would lead you to believe we are heading for ruin. I could cite many recent cases where the abuse of riches and the instances of greed are pervasive in today’s society. Cite the recent demise of BHS (British Home Stores) run into the ground by high-flying ‘Sir’ Philip Green. I’m sure you have stories chez vous. There are simply too many to tell.

But the one I want to talk about involves a favourite place of mine, the Camden Locks Market and the attached Horse Hospital market, a meandering mishmash of bohemian boutiques and now you see ’em, now you don’t market stalls. That was the charm of the place in recent years. Folks who made jewellery of all sorts as you wait, beer bottles made into clocks, leather-bound journals with weird covers, any vintage vinyl album you could want (at a reasonable price), crafts of all descriptions and Indian goods that were cheap and cheerful. Lots of vintage clothing, posters from every era and anything bohemian you can imagine.

Then a billionaire started grabbing up parts of the market and now has it all. He has grandiose plans for the market, which might be a good thing except that it involves dismantling the unique character of the place, turning it into a high-end, expensive shopping mall for the rich Euro trash to have as their London playground. Like they need another part of London for that. They already have Knightsbridge, the South Bank and St. Katherines Dock etc., etc., etc.

But my concern is with Camden Town, home of Bob Cratchit. He could never afford to live there now, especially if he was a real person. And it’s getting worse. Local vendors and developers try to get every penny out of the rest of us. They are also eroding the traditional fabric of the area. Leather shops, vintage clothing, tattoo parlors, souvenirs and probably the myriad music venues are sought by greedy land-grabbing developers. They can’t wait to get their greedy mitts on this choice land and turn it into a playground for rich, high-flying foreign oligarchs.

And now this billionaire has most of the Camden covered markets. What was once a hospital and service stalls for horses that pulled canal barges and a gin factory became a market. But it had kept its history alive with bronze statues of horses and men shoeing them and the rest dotted all over the market grounds. They’re gone. Much of what has made the market a bohemian treat is gone. That’s the problem with billionaires. They never think what is good for the area and for ordinary people. They have in mind upscale shopping for the rich.

Rent has gone through the roof, shutting out the average artisan. I spoke to one chap who operated a gin distillery, something new in the market. He said rents had gone up drastically and many vendors lost out. I won’t get into the nationality of many of the business people moving to the market. Everything British is being sold off to foreign investors because the Brits don’t want to own anything. They just want cash so they can buy big homes outside of London and go on cruises and such. Unless something changes, Brexit is going to be a joke, if it isn’t already.

And there you have it. Who to blame? Everyone. The ones who sell, the ones who buy, those who own land and develop it, those who make the rules regarding who owns what, and the mob of complacent folk who say and do nothing. Am I one of them? Well, I hope not since I refuse to go back to shop there. And places like it. I’m tired of ‘upscale’ places charging the moon for not much. And let’s be clear. Greed is rampant and so things cannot end well in a society that cares more about the bottom line than providing good service and good value for money. If you don’t see it, you are part of the problem.

A call to arms? Nah. Just a call to common sense. Without it, you may as well let Kim Jong-un, Trump and Putin nuke the world and let it get back to basics.

 

 

Sausage Sizzle

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Sausage Sizzle

This is not a pornographic Blog. I don’t do those. I could, but I don’t. I know sex sells. But I’m not selling anything and at my age, I think it best that I stick to safe subjects. Like this one, a good old-fashioned Sausage Sizzle where the only sex involves males and females working together to raise money for a worthwhile organisation.

It all began, the charity stuff I mean, a year ago at Halloween. We decorated the boats and the marina perimeter wall behind the boats with scary things and put out a donation box for people to give generously to our charity of choice. It happened to be an End-of-Life Hospice where our neighbours Eddie and Mimz work and volunteer. Then at Christmastime the displays became Mega and the money raised greater still. Easter rolled around and eggs, bunnies and the rest became the theme and more money came in.

We were on a roll. Every season and celebration have become an opportunity to keep the donating going. Gardening season provided the needed impetus to keep the ball rolling. And it has. For over 4 months now. Things started slow but have evolved into the jungle madness I Blogged about not long ago and turned Mimz into the Bubble Lady of our marina. She was forever blowing bubbles. The locals, children and adults, loved it. Any time a child passed by the boats, Mimz was up to the wall, turning on the bubble machines we had purchased from hither and yon and waving the large wand to make monster bubbles.

Then a new shop came to town. Well, not so much just a shop as a Megashop, another Australian incursion into the British Isles, Bunnings Hardware, a DIY fanatic’s fantasy come true. They took over from Homebase and boast 20 locations by the end of the year. Brits don’t own anything anymore and don’t seem to want to run things or open new ventures (nothing big anyway), so they leave it to foreign investors to rescue the economy.

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Eddie and the Bunnings lady conferring before the event.

Be that as it may, Bunnings has done its best, so far, to fit into the local community. Apparently, they are nothing like that in Australia, just about money. I’m sure the same will happen here once the dust settles. Anyway, for the moment, all goes well. Every weekend, Bunnings runs a charity Sausage Sizzle outside its premises, one on Saturday and a different charity on Sunday. Bunnings was supposed to provide everything. That was the deal. All they asked was for volunteers from the sponsored charity to run the event.

That’s where we come in. We thought it would be a good idea to do one for the Hospice. After some strange negotiating with the Hospice and Bunnings, our day came. Bunnings provided nothing like they said they would. We had to buy all the goods. But we were determined to go ahead and do this thing. It was for a good cause and we had talked about doing it for a long time. The day came. We were loaded with bread, sausages, napkins and the rest and off to Bunnings we went on a fine, hot August morning.

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Three Amigos ready to work.

They had already set up the gazebos and the grill….at least. But the people running the charity the day before had used up all the oil and so we had to go back to the boat to get some. Hard to sizzle sausage without the oil. Kind of essential. The Bunnings person who supervised the event went through a bunch of rules, the dos and don’ts of sizzling sausage, most of which we ignored, and off we went. Eddie cooked, I served and the ladies ran the money side of things and the raffle table.

Good team work. It had to be. We were there for 8 hours in the heat, standing the whole time. Eddie was stalwart. He cooked in the heat, over the heat. He and Mimz had cut up the onions the day before and paid the price. Now Eddie was grilling them to perfection. By the half-way point of the day, he had those sausages sizzling like a master chef. Not one customer complained about the product and more than one gave us the thumbs-up after consuming the goods.

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Mimz and Andrea at the Raffle table.

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Team work at its best.

No matter what you do in public, especially for charity, there are those who are simply grumpy. We had our share. Rude people who react like children when spoken to by a stranger in public. My best friend simply asked if passersby were hungry and got all kinds of rude remarks and gestures thrown her way. I did too. To one couple I just happened to say, “Now then, you look like a hungry couple. Sausage Sizzle?” A harmless remark really. Except that my best friend pointed out that may have been construed as rude as they were persons of a certain girth that said, ‘do I look like I need another sausage?’ Well….

Generally, things went well. We survived the day and made a goodly sum of money for the Hospice. The womenfolks did a tremendous day’s work on the raffle table by selling lots of tickets The draw was at 3pm. Some good boat neighbours, who had come over during the day to support us, won a few of the prizes.

All in all, everything went well. Eddie’s OCD kicked in right at the end of the day. The Bunnings lady who was in charge of the event said of all the groups they had the pleasure to work with so far, we were the cleanest. That’s down to Eddie. The grill looked good as new, but Eddie insisted that every nook and cranny had to be spotless. The Bunnings lady tried her best to dismiss our Eddie from duty, but I knew better. He would leave when he was satisfied that everything was immaculate. Oh, and by the way, the Bubble Lady (Mimz) was there all day doing her thing. No event is complete without her bubbles.

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Eddie and me. The perfect team.

 

Ruminating….

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That’s what I do while walking along the towpath. I ruminate. Yes, I watch the swans, the ducks, the heron, the coots and all. I get distracted by the different boats moored along the towpath. They change every few days. Except for the boats named ‘Bramble’ and ‘Ken’s Free’. They’ve been there a while now. If a boat is in a lock (there are two near us) I gongoozle for a bit. But mostly I ruminate. About life. I turn 65 in a couple of weeks. Lots of life to ruminate about.

Today I went off to the local Sainsbury’s for some comestibles. It rained heavily last night, so the towpath was soggy. I wore my wellies and had fun walking through the puddles while a few others, unprepared, had to dance around them, avoiding the water, but sliding in the mud. Amusing.

It was on the way back, comestibles in hand, that I began to ruminate. The British papers seem as interested in The US elections as in Britain’s June referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU (European Union). Anything Donald Trump appears to be good headlines. David Cameron isn’t. He’s just another in a long line of privileged Brits who think they know what this island….and the other island…. need(s). I ruminated about all that….and more.

The more came in the form of a musical hero of mine who finally gave in to age. Sir George Martin died at age 90. He was indeed the 5th Beatle and made the band what they became. I was thinking that the best of who we are as humanity seems to be from those who are in the background. They endure. They never look for public accolades. They are just good at what they do and do it quietly and efficiently. The only reward they ask is that what they do makes a difference or matters and will be remembered.

I didn’t know who George Martin was for years. I may have heard his name in conjunction with The Beatles’ production, but, let’s face it, it ws John, Paul, George and Ringo who had our attention, whether they wanted it or not. Their music is as much a part of my life as anything else. I remember hearing ‘She Loves You’ on my transistor radio one night (I had to hold it under my pillow in case of parent alerts) late in 1963. I listened to WBZ Boston from my lower bunk bed in Grand Valley (population 400), Ontario. A new song from England.  I was sold.

I have since learned that George Martin didn’t like the way the Beatles ended the song….on a major 6th. The Fab Four stuck to their guns and it turned out to be a piece of genius writing for the time that Martin hadn’t approved. He later admitted, given the fan evidence, that he may have been wrong on that occasion. It would not be the only time he had to back down. I ruminated what some of the songs might have sounded like had George Martin gotten his way on all the Beatles tunes. He produced over 700 of them.

Then my friend in Grand Valley, Chris Menary, bought the Beatlemania album and we listened to it at his house (when his parents were out) until we wore the vinyl thin. I have found out since that the title was issued only in Canada. Elsewhere it was known as, ‘With The Beatles’.We hopped around Chris’s house to the beat of ‘Please, Mr. Postman’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and the rest. My favourite was ‘All My Loving’. It was the first Beatles song heard by most Americans.

Beatlemania album artwork – Brazil | The Beatles Bible

The first song I played in a band was The Beatles’ ‘The Night before’. That was in Grand Valley too, at the High School variety night. We all wore Beatles caps and Neru jackets. I haven’t felt as cool since. And I got to dance afterward with the second prettiest girl in school. Heaven on earth. I owe some of all this to George Martin. No one else wanted to record the Beatles. Martin took a chance. He saw potential and raw talent and moulded it.

Then in 1969, at High School in the north west corner of Toronto, I skipped class one day to join some mates in the library to listen to the newly released ‘Abbey Road’. We were all in awe. What George Martin did with that album can only be described as magic, from crunchy guitar work to a country ditty to Paul’s throat busting rendition of ‘Oh Darlin”. It remains my favourite Beatles album. When I got back to the boat, I put in the little Brennan JB7 and listened to the whole Beatles’ catalogue. Had to be done.

From rumination to reality. The two go hand-in-hand in my life. Most of the time. Just writing this has started me ruminating about old friends from Grand Valley and elsewhere. I wish you all a tuneful moment. Whatever your taste. Could be that over the years you have loved a tune produced by George Martin. The Beatles were not his only musical project. Worth delving into and ruminating about methinks.

 

 

The Music Boat

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I wrote a Blog a while ago about The Candy Boat and a number of other entrepreneurial enterprises carried out from other boats….including a Beer Boat. I missed one, The Music Boat. Not quite a reality yet as I write, but watch this space. One day next Spring, The Music Boat shall launch and deliver good music to the masses…. well, those who frequent the canal towpaths of Britain anyway.

That’s the plan. Just have to get off my butt to organise it. I mean, everything is in place, mostly. A few details to iron out and an artisan licence to acquire, but that should be easy. The other details? Choosing just the right music. I have a vast repertoire from years of collecting tunes….since the 60s. Being the age I am, as I write this, there are 0nly 4 years between myself and David Bowie and 2 shy of Glenn Frey….so I’d better get a move on. All the musical gear is in place, even a battery operated guitar amplifier, so the only excuse, really, is procrastination.

I am a Busker at heart. Every time I pass one in the Underground or Subway, on the streets or along the River Thames, I want to be one of them. The origins of the word Busker or to busk are obscure. Some say it comes from an obsolete French word (busquer or Basquer), others say it morphed from being a nautical term meaning to cruise to a later meaning of to seek and later to cruise the seas as a pirate to catch prey. But by the 1850s in Britain, the term was used to describe those musicians who cruised the taverns to sing and play their songs for cash….or a drink or two. Whatever the origins, today’s Buskers have to be licensed in order to perform. One cheeky chappy went so far as to say that busking was probably the world’s second oldest profession.

My voice is still pretty sound and my fingers still move reasonably well….no arthritis to speak of….so I think I could handle the rigors of busking to a fickle public on the streets or along the canals. Mostly the classics from The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel to a few artists from the 90s and even some from the 21st century. But no Rap or what they call R&B these days. No punk and no Ultra Vox either. Strictly a tunes musician. Lots of Blues and even one Metallica song. Eclectic without being too diverse. I like a song you can hum on the way home.

My best friend joins in. She has a fine voice and we harmonise well together. Some guy heard us at a 60th birthday gig we did for a friend and said we sounded lovely but needed some bottom end. He’s a bass player. Say no more. I have a bass and my best friend plays some guitar, so look out Tal Wilkenfeld and Carol Kaye. We may go deeper yet. My best friend says ‘Let’s have a go’. Bottoms up.

One thing I admire about Buskers. They can sing and play for hours without a word sheet in front of them. Most of the really good ones can anyway. They have memorised a whole catalogue of tunes and can even take some of the most obscure requests easily. Flawless renditions with not a word or guitar chord in front of them. The lucky Buskers are the folk who play their saxaphones, other wind instruments and violins, not concerned with lyrics of any kind. Just have to have a handle on their instruments. Some are excellent. There are other kinds of Buskers fom fire eaters to jugglers, but my interest is with the musicians.

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You may or may not know this, but some pretty famous musicians started out as Buksers. The likes of Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman, Sheyl Crow, Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin plied their musical wares on the streets of the cities in which they lived. Actor Steve Martin busked with his banjo. And the great BB King began by busking. We do a couple of songs by Michael David Rosenberg. You may know him as Passenger. ‘Let Her Go’ and ‘Holes’ are two favourites. A great Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist, Bruce Cockburn, busked in his early days in London and in Paris.

I lived in Paris for a year back in the early 1980s. I used to take visiting dignitaries (not politicians) on my famous half hour tour of the main exhibits at the Louvre. An unpaid gig but lots of fun. Venus de Milo? Right this way….Stele of Hammurabi? Follow me. The sword of Charlemagne? Just over there. The Mona Lisa? Well, that’s an easy one. One day on the way to the Louvre, a Busker sat outside with a Classical guitar (those of nylon strings….once made of cat guts, but changed for obvious reasons) playing one of my favourite tunes ‘Romance for Guitar’, an anonymous instrumental work that most guitarists learn because it is quite easy as Classical pieces go. The chap in question played it beautifully. When we came out he was still playing it. Must have gone through his repertoire and was beginning again I thought. Next visit, there he was, playing the same piece….when we went in and when we were leaving. I spoke to him between same tunes and he said it was the only piece he knew. It took him a long time to learn and he was afraid to stop in case he forgot some bit. Amazing.

My only weakness, other than procrastination, is my memory. I have sung some the same songs for years but have failed to memorise the lyrics of any of them. I have to have the music in front of me when I perform. A professional musician once told me that I would never go far if I had to have the music out  when I perform. But there I was, music stand in place and lyrics clothes-pegged so the wind didn’t carry away the sheets. I have recently graduated to a folder that holds the sheet music. It takes me a long time to change methods. But one must progress.

The Music Boat launches in the late Spring of 2016. Watch for us. If your view of our faces is obscured by music stands, don’t fret. Just get into the groove and sing along. And for the moment, bring along your bass guitar and amp (must be battery powered). Until my best friend catches on to the infernal thing, we’ll need your bottom end.

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