And so, after a glamorous career in London & the Loire (successfully), Paris (unsuccessfully), and Derby (forgettably), Dr. Edward Pardew (and his assistant Michael Brown) arrived in Rome, at AS Roma, another stop in the odyssey, and potentially, a fit better than any other. Continue reading
It’s a hard line to tread when they’re little – little ones – I love that expression – ‘little ones’. It’s a hard line to tread – half of you, well, half of me at least, wants just to cherish that moment, to take in every single little minutiae of their face – every little dimple, and every smirk. It goes so fast you see, changes so quickly, it’s hard to get to know someone, learn to know someone, as their face changes, squares off, rounds out, flattens down, sprouts, teethes, and begins to look less like an old person, and more like a…well…more like a baby – which is what it is – and what she was. Continue reading
The question had first been posed before they stepped in there – but through the course of the day, answers had been promised, and resolutions forgotten. Now, as the final strains of an evening began to dip beneath slated rooftops, it was time to put history to rest.
Waiting, courteously and awkwardly, as the Eastern European barman tended to another customer – a regular – he remembered their meeting, 17 years previously. The old gentleman being dealt with had shuffled into the place alongside them, and now sat with his pennies out on the bar. They were assembled in piles, in columns, perhaps testament to the hours of a working day, or a glance ahead to another evening to be drowned in an inexorable procession of sharp, stinging drinks.
He recalled his first impressions of George, a firm handshake, a strong jaw, & the elegant ease with which he greeted alien company, and then settled down amongst them. That day, like this, had been beautiful, steady, a gift for the emptiness of a weekend, a prayer answered, a funeral adorned. Despite the uglier times; disputes in a downpour for example, or the betrayal of winter, he felt that George belonged in a day like today.
Obviously, that first day, it would have been impossible to have imagined all that would pass between them. Impossible to have envisaged the effortlessness of that initial phase – their becoming friends, the simplicity of their company, or the pure pleasure they both took from days shared or evenings planned. It would have been impossible to have imagined, back then, how she would enter their lives; how she would have anchored George, and tormented him. How she would have come, and how she would have departed; leaving them now as awkward, courteous strangers.
‘So, will you tell me?’
George’s question cut through their fumbled dialogue, and cast off the flimsy veneers of affection and familiarity that had thus far permitted their drink together. He didn’t think about her straightaway, he tried to remember the name of the beer he had ordered only minutes before, to place the barman’s odd fidgety accent, and to imagine whether the old gentleman who had walked in with them had his coins arranged in piles of pennies of akin value, or whether each column accorded to the price of his next order.
He placed down his glass, and their eyes met.
‘It was the morning, about nine, nine thirty. She knocked, and she entered. She sat, and she smoked… and she spoke…’
He paused, squinted and caught sight of something. George exhaled, a combination of fear and frustration.
‘She said she loved you George’
With that he broke down. The old man, lost in conversation elsewhere, flailed his arms too wildly, and a drizzle of coppers cascaded onto the wooden floor.
George stared out of the window for a moment, just a moment, long enough to realise, and long enough to forgive. He took one more gulp, in silence, and took his coat.
Some one asked me recently what the finest piece of art that I’ve ever experienced in my life was, the piece of work that remains fresh and revealing and in which genius is so undoubtedly evident. I couldn’t answer them straightaway, and indeed, it took me a long while of concentrated thought to come to any kind of conclusion.
I am fortunate enough to have gazed up at Adam’s finger tip touching God’s as Michelangelo depicted it on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome, to have read the Book of Job uninterrupted and to have marvelled at David Ginola terrorising defences in the white of a Tottenham shirt…a sight that can only be described as a masterpiece. However, there is one piece of work that for me, touches more emotion than anything else, and displays genius more clearly than anything else I have ever experienced.
People had for years told me of the magnum opus that is Astral Weeks, a 1968 album by Northern Irish musician Van Morrison. Looking back I had often been caught by brief moments of curiosity when the album appeared, as it unfailingly would, on the “Rolling Stone’s-top 10 albums of last century” or “NME’s-top 10 greatest records of our time”, however I had never managed to actually go out and possess the music which so many people had promised me would change my life.
It took the mother of an old girlfriend to place a disc, in this instance a vinyl, in my hands and really force the music upon me, promising that things would never be the same again for my ears. She was right, and although the girlfriend, and a little more unfortunately, the mother, are history in my life today, Van’s lush R&B and harrowing folk music stays, often as more of a comforter and an upper than a girl could ever be.
Morrison found the zenith of his career with this work and it is remarkably mature for a man who was only 23 year old when it was recorded. Many account this to the emotional turmoil he had faced in the time proceeding its creation, as even though he is best known for his signature song, Brown Eyed Girl, in Astral Weeks we find the cut away soul of the musician, one far, far away from the happy go lucky character who “made love in the green grass” in his earlier hit.
Astral Weeks is far more, though, than just a one off hit, the unified nature of the tracks give it a great hint of being a concept album, and each song acts as one part of a whole, each contributing to paint for us this picture of London, Dublin and Belfast, and the nostalgia and drama that accompanied the artist as he explored their streets and their characters. In this sense, the work reminds me a great deal of another Irishman, James Joyce, and his book, the Dubliners, which finds 15 seemingly unrelated short stories, which could all be viewed as individual works, but which mean so much more when placed together to peak at the epiphany found in The Dead, the novella that concludes the work.
I’ve always found it important, when considering an album, to evaluate it within some kind of genre or other, however this is almost impossible to do with Astral Weeks, and indeed adds to its appeal. The jazz element and employment of jazz musicians makes this timbre hard to ignore, but the nature of the lyrics, sung often as an Irish folk song, occasionally as a pop song and sometimes even spoken, shouted or whispered, and composed well within the ‘troubadour tradition’, makes the record far more complex than straight jazz. I’ve listened to this music hundreds of times, and I am still discovering new things about it, and more facets to its sound.
What makes this album so remarkable is the emotion that Morrison conveys within the songs. I have never before, or since, found such a poetic presentation of anguish as I have in the album’s second song, Beside You, a tale of faithfulness towards a fated lover. Nor have I ever caught sight of such a haunting embodiment of regret as I do in the album’s closing number, Slim Slow Slider, where we find Van’s mournful lyrics and poignant vocal complimented perfectly by the almost transcendental playing of a faint soprano saxophone.
He manages to touch the inner core of one’s soul and one’s emotional self through his virtuoso, painful and often overwhelming singing, which some say is the closest Morrison ever came to expressing himself. However, this album is so much more than just personal expression, or self discovery, it is so sincere, so unswerving and so revealing that it is a lesson in the heart, and a voyage between “the viaducts of your dreams”.