Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Of public lectures

April 16, 2016

Last Thursday, I gave a public lecture entitled The incredible shrinking computer: computer hardware from relays to 14 nanometre transistors, part of a series of public lectures in my Department. This series has been running for a few years now, and this was the third time I’d contributed. In 2014, I did one on sound, Hear here: from the ear to the brain, and in 2013 one on artificial intelligence, Artificial Intelligence: is it finally arriving?

These lectures attract an audience of between about 40 and 60, depending on whether it’s nice night, what else is going on, and so on. And it’s actually a lot of work creating these lectures (for example, for the one I just did, I managed to borrow old computer components, and that’s quite apart from the research of putting together something rather better than my average student lecture, with more and better images, for example). So now I (and I suspect, my co-presenters) are interested in where else we might present these talks. Yes, we understand that each talk will need more work, to make it just right for the particular audience, but even then, we’re interested in other possibilities for presenting these again.

I should add that the talks are well received by their audiences, and that the audiences we have had range in age from about 12 upwards – a long way upwards! Is anyone listening out there in www-land? Any suggestions?

(I have two ideas in mind: one is science festivals, and the other is secondary (i.e. high) schools: I just need to get out there and organise them.)

St. Patrick’s night at the Dunblane Hotel

March 18, 2015


Every Tuesday night at the Dunblane Hotel there’s an Scottish/Irish/other music session, staring about 8.30 (but nearer 9 or even a wee bit later sometimes). Sometimes there’s just a couple of folk, sometimes there ten or more. Whistles, fiddles, elbow pipes, the odd flute, and guitar, and yours truly often on an electric piano accompanying. And last night was St Patrick’s Night (17 March). Now, sometimes pubs put of a bit of a show for St. Paddy’s but the DH isn’t really like that. So it was up to us to play to amuse ourselves, and the other customers. There were eight of us last night, and at maximum probably about eight other customers too. But we did have a good time!

To the Edinburgh Festival!

August 15, 2014

One of the joys of living in central Scotland in  August is the Edinburgh Festival. It’s been going since 1947, and I’ve been going since I was a teenager. This week, my wife and I have been to Edinburgh twice, taking in two shows each time (and just wandering about soaking in the atmosphere in between the shows). My favourite swing musician in Edinburgh is my old friend Dick Lee, this time doing his Jazz Notes with Brian Kellock, whom is surely best Jazz piano player in Scotland. Then it was on from the Fringe to the (original!) Festival to see The Sixteen, an remarkable unaccompanied choir, performing pieces on the theme of War and Conflict (almost exactly 100 years to the day after the outbreak of the first world war). This comprised a variety of short pieces, staring with “L’homme arme’ and then finishing with  Poulenc’s “Figure Humaine”. That is a huge work, written in France during the occupation, to be performed on France’s liberation. A remarkable piece, particularly the last movement, “Libertè”.

And then today, again to see one performance from the Fringe, and one from the Festival itself: Arthur Smith performing his homage to Leonard Cohen (part 2) at the Fringe was a sell-out. And no wonder, for not only did he look (and sound) like the old man himself, but he came with a set of backing singers who seemed to fit the part too. But they were a bit livelier than Arthur. And yet, his continuing themes of death, despair, dementia were somehow life-enhancing, and human, particularly when he talked about his mother, and her dementia. And in the evening, off the the last of the new James plays, James III. I know I should have seen James I and James II first, but I haven’t. And each is supposed to stand on its own. Well, Jams III certainly does: it took me a little while to get into it, but the second act is a tour de force, and I’d recommend it to anyone. I bought the book as well…so I can now read James I and James II even if I don’t get to see them in the immediate future. Oddly enough, the first play starts with the “L’homme arme” that we heard the Sixteen play on Monday

I know I’ve only touched the surface of the Festival: just four shows out of over 3000 on the Fringe alone. It is just the tiniest fragment of what there is at Edinburgh!

San Diego: SfN 2013 and Mariza!

November 10, 2013

In San Diego for the annual event of the Society for Neuroscience, SfN 2013, at the Convention Center here: the meeting really only started this afternoon, and doesn’t really get going till tomorrow, but tonight I had a ball! I’m staying in 7th avenue, a little bit out of the downtown area, and on my way back here (after taking in the afternoon poster session), I released that I was just around the corner from the Symphony Hall. So I wandered in, to see what might be on this week. And tonight was Mariza (whom I’d not heard of), singing Fado (which I had heard of, but not heard much of).

And oh, can she sing! Fado is really a genre for singing in a bar or a club, rather than a concert hall, but Mariza made the hall feel like a music club. I don’t know much about Fado, but the vocal style seems to me influenced by North Africa, and perhaps Sephardic music as well: the guitar, Portuguese guitar, and (semi-acoustic) bass guitar were wonderful accompaniments,  added to by a drum kit. The players are all themselves very accomplished musicians, but the start of the show was still Mariza. She had the audience in the palm of her outstretched hand. And the style, the style of this tall lithe girl with such expressive arms and hands, and the singing. The range, the ornamentation, and the silences, yes the silences, stretched almost to breaking point – to the point if the audience were wondering if it was the end, or… and the then the sining again. At one point she and the band went acoustic, but her voice was just as strong – stronger perhaps, if not as loud, stronger because of the immediacy of the unmediated sound. The audience gave her two standing ovations: what more can I say?

But one thing to add. A few weeks ago I was in Portugal, in a resort on the south coast, at a (different) conference. I didn’t really hear any Portuguese music there: I had to go 6,000 miles to San Diego to hear it! But it was worth it!

Tomorrow, it’s back to the conference!

On LinkedIn

July 1, 2013

The Cabots are now connected to the Lodges, and the Lodges are now connected to God. (with apologies to John Collins Bossidy (1860-1928))

David Vernon and Dick Lee play the Tolbooth, Stirling.

June 2, 2012

I went to see David Vernon and Dick Lee playing at the Tolbooth in Stirling this afternoon. David plays the accordion, and Dick plays clarinet (B flat and base), and together they played an eclectic mixture of tunes. Starting off with a Jewish tunes medley, and then a mixture of Balkan and Scottish tunes, with some unusual blues thrown in for good measure. I particularly liked the jazz-influenced Scottish tunes – some were the sort of thing that you can get thrown out of a very traditional folk club for playing: jazzing up and improvising over traditional tunes. Now, I occasionally play piano behind fiddlers in a local pub (The Tappit Hen), and I’d dearly love to be skilled enough to do what Dick was doing and mix the traditional with the jazzy, even if I’m not entirely sure what the locals would make of it!

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon that listening to David and Dick playing, and making the odd joke at each others expense. And even listening to David playing their Scottish Surprise, where he plays Scottish tunes whilst changing key as fast as possible, while Dick improvises a jazz line over them! It was really good to hear. I’ve heard Dick play in many different bands (I have no idea how many bands he’s played in), even back to having his band Swing ’87 who played at my wedding. He’s looking very well – he looks a lot younger than me, but I’m sure we were the same age when we first met!

On Scottish Opera’s performance of Carmen last night

October 15, 2010

Last night, I went to see Scottish Opera’s travellingproduction of Bizet’s Carmen at the MacRobert Centre at Stirling University. Now, Carmen is probably my all-time favourite opera: it has everything, love, drama, fortune-telling, and marvellous feisty gypsy music. So when I saw Carmen was coming, I booked tickets immediately. It was a sell-out, I’m glad to say.

Before the performance, when I read the programme, I saw that the accompaniment would be on piano, and I felt a bit disappointed. I was wrong. Susannah Wapshott’s piano-playing was inspired. And the singing: I had read that Scottish Opera were a good company, but this was beyond my expectations. The audience loved it: they applauded each aria (which while it may have broken up the action a little, demonstrated the audience’s appreciation). At the final curtain call, Carmen and Don José got strong applause, but the loudest applause was actually for Susannah Wapshott, and she deserved it!

A little light music: All of Me

August 8, 2010

And now for something a bit different. Recorded in the Garage here, with me on the (electric) piano, and Jonathan Smith on drums and trumpet (not actually simultaneously), here’s an old standard, All of Me. I’ve been playing piano forever, and Jonathan is about to start studying electronics and sound technology. So we thought we’d try this. Enjoy.

Porgy and Bess at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

November 1, 2009

Went to see Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess last night in Edinburgh. It took a long time to get there – there was a cow on the train line. We’d allowed two hours (it usually takes one hour from here), and in the end we took a taxi from the station and got there just before curtain up. But I’m really pleased we didn’t give up on the way!

I’ve been playing Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So for a long time (I bought the music for Summertime in 1967, I think), but I’d never seen the original show. It was a real education. The music is more modern than most of the jazz arrangements I’ve heard – and even though I know that Summertime starts on a high F#, the effect of the song at the very start of the show is electrifying. This was opera, not just a musical! It was performed by Cape Town Opera, who were absolutely terrific! I don’t know where else they are performing this (it was the last night in Edinburgh), but I’d recommend it to anyone.