Sunday, 24 January 2016

A Song A Day: Ghost - "He Is"

I don't know about you, but I seem to go through massive shifts in what I listen to every now and then. I'm not sure whether it is that as I age, my ear hears differently, or whether I am just in a different place and more ready to accept things, or whether bands themselves are changing. Probably a bit of everything. In the last year I have started listening to bands and artists that I have previously dismissed or overlooked.

Ghost were one such band. They released their third album last year, Meliora, to great critical acclaim. I don't remember why I started listening to them, but after just a few listens to "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" and I was hooked. Then I discovered by chance that they had been on the bill at Nova Rock 2 years ago when we went, and I didn't pick up on them then, despite doing my usual 'listen to at least one song by every band on beforehand' thing.

The sound is hard to describe. It's kind of proggy, but also heavy, but also not. It's a little bit Queen 1+2, it's a little bit something else. However you put it, it's good.
The arrangements are packed with so many rich details, I sometimes wonder if they are channelling the spirit of Freddie Mercury. I love music, and I love a lot of bands, but Ghost evoke something in me that only a few have managed (Queen mainly).

I saw them live in November last year, one week after the Paris attacks. It was an interesting atmosphere, because that time the previous week the Eagles of Death Metal had been taking to the stage and then the unthinkable happened. Although tensions never seemed palpably high in Vienna, you could tell people were a little worried. Ghost didn't make a huge thing about it, but there was a definite air of defiance running through their set, and as I commented at the end, there is no bigger fuck you to those intent on causing terror than a mass sing along to a song about Satanic fucking.

This is not that song.

"He Is" is the latest release from Meliora. One of the things that really caught my ear the other day was the instrumental bridge towards the end - it sounded a little bit familiar, then I realised it has echoes of one of the refrains from Queen's "Fairy King". Another reason to love it!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Song A Day: Holman Climax Male Voice Choir - "Brightly Beams"

There is just something about male voice choirs that stirs something deep in the soul. A tradition that sprung out of Methodist communities that were often dominated by mining and rugby, the future of male voice choirs faces significant challenges.
In Wales and Cornwall, two areas particularly famous for their male voice choirs, average choir ages are rising, and the pressures of modern life mean it can be a struggle to recruit new members.
An article in the Guardian a few years ago noted that younger men are disinclined to join because the twice weekly rehearsal schedule is a serious commitment and there are always other things to do. For others, the traditional repertoire of songs may prove unappealing.

Singing is often an important part of life in the community, whether it is formalised in a choir or just a sing song down the pub. I went to see Elbow a couple of years ago at the Eden Project, and when it came for some audience participation, the crowd embraced it with gusto and a three part harmony. That's just what we do down there. I hope the choirs can continue long into the future, maintaining a fine tradition that brings joy to so many.

While a more modern song book may help attract new members, there is something to be said for the old traditions. Today's pick is Holman Climax, a choir from Redruth, singing at the inauguration of the new lifeboat and lifeboat station down on the Lizard. The song is "Brightly Beams", a hymn most closely associated with fishermen.

Friday, 22 January 2016

A Song A Day: "Sound of Silence"

This whole blogging thing was going so well, until I came down with a cold. Cue feeling like death warmed up for a few days, but I'm finally back to working order. On with the show!

This song is a double header, hence there being no band in the title. The song means so much to so many people, myself included. The original, by Simon and Garfunkel, is probably one of the defining songs of the 20th century. True story: Despite my parents being massive fans, I didn't like Simon and Garfunkel until I was 16, when my friends starting listening to them all the time. I actively eschewed their genius until that point. I guess I just wasn't ready.

Fast forward to late 2015 and a new version of the song is circulating on the internet. Disturbed, a band that I am a pretty big fan of, returned from their hiatus with a new album Immortalized (their 5th Billboard 200 No. 1 no less), which includes as ever, their take on a classic song. And boy what a cover this is! David Draiman showcases just how powerful his voice is in their version, swapping out his trademark style for a more classical clean sound.

The song is stripped back, perhaps in homage to the song's origins as a folk song featuring only a guitar and the vocals of Simon and Garfunkel. This makes for a spine tingling, emotion filled rendition that adds new dimensions. I particularly like the piano bass parts - the simplicity of the music is allowed to shine. The percussion utilises more melodic instruments that allows an echo of the melody and accompaniment. While it doesn't have the exquisite harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, the arrangement creates a similar feel.

So enjoy both versions - it is worth it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A Song A Day: Gloryhammer "Rise of the Chaos Wizards"

Gloryhammer were recommended to me by a couple of friends last year and I only really got round to giving them more attention just before Christmas when I put a couple of their songs one my current listens playlist on YouTube. Then this morning when I woke up I read SteffMetal's post on her Top 10 albums of 2015 and "Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards" made her cut. That was it. Since 7am this morning I have had the title track stuck in my head.

When I first fired this track up on YouTube last year, it was a moment of pure pleasure. Bombastic sound, crazy imagery and the kind of piano chords that make a sometime pianist like myself jump with joy. If I hadn't been in the office I probably would have leapt up and struck some kind of air punching pose!
Gloryhammer most definitely deserve a place in my music collection - they embody the more epic side of metal that doesn't take itself too seriously. Sometimes I think we all need a bit of that!

So without further ado, I present to you Gloryhammer, and "Rise of the Chaos Wizards".

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Song A Day: Queen ft. David Bowie - "Under Pressure"

After what feels like forever, I have the urge to start writing again. I listen to music all the time, and my musical taste is varied and very broad. So I thought I'd write about a song or piece of music I have listened to each day. It might be something that gets stuck in my head, it might be something that I listen to repeatedly. It could be a classic song, a new song, or a piece of classical music. It could be anything, from rock and metal, to orchestral or hip hop.

For the first song, I have picked Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie. When I heard the news that David Bowie had died, after a few expletives, this was the first song that popped into my head.

The death of a musician for many brings previously unanticipated emotions to the surface, often randomly and without warning. I wouldn't describe myself as a massive Bowie fan, but I shed a few tears at various points yesterday, and the day just didn't feel as bright as it should have done. I kept thinking as well that I didn't have the same reaction when Lemmy died a couple of weeks ago, but I guess in some ways his death wasn't unexpected; he'd been ill for a while and had cancelled more gigs than he'd performed. Even though the rumours were being denied or brushed off, it was in some ways obvious that something wasn't right. Bowie on the other hand, managed to keep all that hidden, in keeping with his very private nature. The fact that he released an album just last week (which now seems to have been a carefully planned goodbye) made it all the more shocking. 

Freddie Mercury and David Bowie were both one of a kind performers. Both highly creative, visionary minds who pushed boundaries and reshaped the music industry. Tales from the recording of this track tell of clashing of personalities and egos, but there is no denying that the end result is an absolute triumph. As a song it stands out on an album that is not one of the stronger albums in Queen's catalogue.

So, sit back, close your eyes and enjoy.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Places to find your expat food in Vienna

I saw an article on The Local last week about the price of expat (predominantly Anglophone country expat) food, compared across the key cities where the website operates. Vienna ranked somewhat high on the cost of buying your favourite expat foods, which is no surprise considering that their research was apparently a trip to Bobby's (which I keep trying to type as Boobz's for some reason). I have nothing against Bobby's - I've walked past it a few times but never actually been in - but it isn't the only place to buy your expat fare in the city.

As time has gone on, I find myself relying less on imports from the UK; in part because I am getting used to not having things, and also because I'm finding it easier to get things without having to make special trips. For everything else, there is Amazon.

So, without further ado, here is a list of the expat foods, and where I like to buy them.

 1. Heinz Baked Beans

I've never been that fussed about my brand of beans, as long as it was something above the level of Tesco Value. But not all beans are born equal, and Heinz rates highly amongst the many different brands (although back home my favourites were Waitrose Essential), and are certainly the only beans worth buying out here.
The Local's article had them pegged at €2.49 a tin, but Merkur and Spar sell them for around €1.49 a tin. Look for them in the tinned bean section.

2. PG Tips

Another item that The Local lists as a pricey consumerable, at €3.99 for 40 bags, which is a bit bloody steep. Luckily PG Tips is available at pretty much every Indian/Asian supermarket in the city, at the much more reasonable €7.99 for about 300 teabags.

3. Bird's Custard Powder

Bird's Custard Powder is the stuff of legends. A combination of sugar, cornstarch and dried egg, this makes every dessert awesome. Thankfully due to its milk free ingredients, I can still eat it. I brought a tin out with me, thinking that I would have to ration it until I could get home to get more, but lo and behold, we found it in Nakwon, our local Korean supermarket (Rotensterngasse, 2nd district, there is also a branch in the 7th), and I believe you can buy it in Prosi (also in the 7th, on the Gurtel at the back of Burggasse Stadthalle U Bahn Station).

4. HP Brown Sauce

This has remained an elusive product. You can buy it in Bobby's, but everything there comes with a premium price. If you happen to be in Bratislava, the Tesco there sells it.

5. Cheddar Cheese

Ah the last bastion of Englishness. When we moved here in 2012, the only cheddar you could buy was Irish cheddar, which is a disgusting orange colour and by all accounts is pretty disgusting to taste. We kept importing cheese from the UK, apart from the odd time that Spar Gourmet had some proper stuff on the cheese counter, but Merkur now sell Cathedral City, which is a good standard of cheese.

6. Branston Pickle
Another item available from Prosi, and some other Asian supermarkets. This stuff is a sandwich staple - you can of course make your own, but why bother?

7. Colman's Mustard 
This sharp yellow mustard is sold pre made, or as a powder. I've only seen it in Merkur Hohe Markt, which is a treasure trove of goodies from all over the place. This stuff is a common accompaniment to roast beef, or mixed with honey as a marinade for pork. That and all the other uses!

These are probably the top foodstuffs I can find in Vienna - everything else I just go to Amazon (things like Golden Syrup, treacle, muscovado sugar etc), or we stock up when we're back in the UK.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Twenty-four photos in twelve hours?

At the end of September, on the spur of the moment, The Beard and I decided to join the Vienna Photo Marathon. The idea is that you have 24 themes, and you have to take a photo for each theme, in order. And you have 12 hours to do it in. 

There is no editing, no post processing, and everything has to be shot in JPG. The only things you are allowed to do to your photos are the things that your camera will do before you take the picture, like change the colour settings to shoot in monochrome or other fancy setting. Oh, and you can rotate them (my camera is set to auto rotate but I have no idea whether it actually works or not!). 

The Sunday dawned somewhat foggy, but by 9am when we went to pick up our memory card and the themes, the mist was clearing. The day turned out to be the best weather possible for photography, with beautiful clear skies and air. It was a LONG day - we were on our feet for nearly the whole 12 hours. With hindsight we could have done with sitting down a little at the beginning and planning something more structured, but oh well, you live and learn!

We will definitely take part again next year, as we had a lot of fun. A lot of people were bringing all kinds of costumes and actors etc to the event, photographing them in all different scenarios, but we both took the approach of a giant photographic scavenger hunt. We also kept our kit to a minimum, as it was hard work carrying a load of stuff around all the time!

I was quite pleased with the results! Taking part has really encouraged me to get out with the camera and photograph more, because there are so many cool things to look at here! 

morgens in Wien / mornings in Vienna

nachdenklich / contemplative

am Spielplatz / at the playground

es wird gebaut / under construction

Fotografie ist Abenteur / Photography is an adventure

im Burggarten / in Burggarten

Der Golf. Das Auto. / The Golf. The Car.

herbstliches Wien / autumnal Vienna

in der Mitte / in the middle

mehr Menschlichkeit für Tiere / more humanity for animals

zusammen / together

ICH BIN das ultimative Selfie / I AM the ultimate selfie

eingezäunt / enclosed

gelb / yellow

Kunst / Art

Wunder der Technik / wonder of technology

Wenn ich könnte, wie ich wollte... / if I could, I would...

Abdruck / cast

Kontakt / contact

Stein/steinig / Stone/stony

oben/unten / over/under

so geht's auch / that also works

vergessen / forgotten

fertig / finished


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