Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musical Postcards: Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings

Pizza Express, Soho, London, W1. One of the best jazz venues in the UK (and, no, they are not paying me to write this!).
Recently, I bumped into old friend, Mitch Dalton, at the Pizza Express, Soho. His band, the Studio Kings, were on fine form. Indeed I haven't enjoyed a guitar-led jazz combo this much in ages.  Mitch describes his music as "smooth jazz". I don't think I agree as I usually equate the term with "muzak", "elevator music" or, Heaven forbid, Kenny G.  The Kings gave some highly original takes on several jazz standards including the Coltrane classic, Giant Steps as well as On Green Dolphin Street popularized by Miles Davis. The band's own Shuffle Kerfuffle was also a stand out piece. Nothing insipid here! Indeed the quality of musicianship was truly world class: over the course of the evening Mitch and the lads showed they could hop, skip and jump with the best of them. Most of the time they were melodic, nimble and quick but could segue into solid-as-fudge rock licks when required.  Great stuff! Do catch them if you get a chance.

Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings (Mitch Dalton, guitar; David Arch, Keys; Steve Pearce, bass; Ian Thomas, drums) at the Pizza Express, Soho, London.

Mitch Dalton lays down some great grooves: he's a flawless player capable of playing many styles of music.
The incomparable David Arch on keys. Dave was moonlighting from his regular gig as musical director of Strictly Come Dancing.
Steve Pearce on bass was brilliant. He's played with just about everybody and can get some amazingly subtle sounds out of his Fender bass.

Mitch's style reminds me of Lee Ritenour playing with American jazz giants, Fourplay

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Musical Postcards: Viper's Dream

A consequence of my recent, rather breathless, world travels has meant that I'm way behind on my posts. I caught this lively bunch in the UK in the autumn of last year. The band's name is taken from a Django Reinhardt tune and they emphasize the resurgence and continued popularity of the the gypsy jazz genre. Some of my earliest memories of jazz were of my Dad playing a Quintet of the Hot Club of France LP on our home gramophone and I guess I've been imprinted with an avid liking of the stuff ever since. Encore!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Demon Stalking

"Shoki creeping up on hidden demon" Ryakuga Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

I came across this marvelous Japanese ukiyo-e period woodblock recently. It's full of stealth, hidden menace, bravery and allegorical suggestion. Love it! Now where's my katana...?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Invisible Assets

I spotted this innovative fundraising venture on a trip to Cambridge, UK, sometime back in the autumn, last year.

This guy wins the prize for "Ingenuity and Enterprise" in MD's New Year's Honors list. I hope you find gainful employment soon, mate.

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Musical Postcards: Dream Theatre

A few months back I caught veteran virtuoso-psychedelic-prog-metal (or whatever) band, Dream Theatre, at Seattle's McCaw Hall. They put on a spectacular and dreamy multi-media show and all the band members demonstrated masterful instrumental skill. John Petrucci on lead guitar was quite outstanding. To the delight of the crowd DT shredded, meandered and jammed in a way that would have turned Jerry Garcia sativa green with envy: throughout the concert a light show sparkled and exploded like a mini-supernova. Entertaining stuff although I couldn't help thinking that Hawkwind did exactly the same thing (albeit a bit less polished) 45 years earlier...

By all means watch the entire vid from beginning to end but IMHO it's best to start it at around 1'30".

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Following my previous post on the courageous WW1 soldier, John Thomas Bloor, I thought it would would be worth reflecting more on The Great War on Armistice Day. The brilliant poppy exhibit at the Tower of London is a poignant reminder of its scale of tragedy.  The nearly 900,000 ceramic flowers that currently fill the moat of the Tower represent just Britain's losses. Entente or Allied forces suffered 6 million deaths: Canada had 65,000 losses. It has been estimated that the conflict cost the lives of up to 37 million civilian and military personnel among all nations involved.  The magnitude of these infernal statistics is hard to comprehend and we should never forget that every single one of those fallen souls had a human story just like Private Bloor. I'll let the photos do the talking...

I'll finish up with a verse from Robert Laurence Binyon's immortal poem:

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"

Private John Thomas Bloor: Closure

The commemorative plaque for John Thomas Bloor 

Exactly one year ago today I published an article about John Thomas "Tom" Bloor (JTB), a valiant Canadian infantryman, killed in August 1917 at the Battle of Hill 70.  Nearly a decade ago, I had become, inadvertently, the bearer of JTB's memorial plaque. I'd had no idea what it was and the name was barely visible but after closer inspection and a lot of research a fascinating story about JTB and his progress through the terrible conflict of WW1 emerged. I posted the story on Armistice Day, 2013 and since then it has attracted a very large number of hits.

As JTB's story unfolded, my sense of obligation to his family increased. It was no longer acceptable to leave the plaque sitting around in my study so I started a lengthy search for descendant family members. I won't bore you with the details but I embarked on a long trawl through parish records, births, marriages and deaths databases and genealogy sites both in the UK and Canada. There were many red herrings and blind alleys but then several rather soft pieces of evidence suggested that some of JTB's siblings may have also ended up in Canada. Eventually I enlisted the help of Dr Ian Bloor, Chairman of the UK based Bloor Society.   The good doctor was quite the wizard and within a couple of days he connected me with Janice MacPhee who he believed to be JTB's cousin two generations on (I believe that is termed "twice removed"). After a few emails back and forth it turned out that Janice was indeed  a surviving relative of JTB and was residing in the northern reaches of British Columbia. I felt that after the odyssey of my detective work on the plaque, it would be quite unsatisfactory to simply mail it off.  Janice and I conversed a bit more and she revealed that she would be visiting Vancouver in the near future. Vancouver is only a couple of hours drive from Seattle and meeting in that vicinity was a very satisfactory solution. Eventually we agreed that we would get together in a town just inside the US border.

Now I had to prepare for the meeting: handing over a 'naked' plaque seemed crass and disrespectful. I scoured eBay and was fortunate to find original inner and outer envelopes for the plaque as well as a 29th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force (JTB's regiment) cap badge. I also obtained a facsimile of the honor letter from King George V that accompanied the plaque when sent to the next of kin (thanks to Mr Eddie Fatharly, South Ockendon, Essex, UK). I packaged the items in a walnut presentation box and assembled all the documentation I'd acquired relating to JTB's life and military service. Now I was ready to go...

And so it was that on a sunny Sunday morning last spring I set off with JTB's memorabilia for a rendezvous at a restaurant in Bellingham, WA.  Janice and I identified each other quite easily. She was accompanied by her husband, Dave. They were visiting family members in Vancouver prior to traveling to China for a vacation. We chatted and had lunch and then I handed over the plaque.

Janice MacPhee, cousin twice removed to JTB, reunited with  his memorial plaque. 
Dave and Janice MacPhee with JTB's plaque and memorabilia. Janice's grandmother (JTB's sister) had also emigrated  from the UK and settled in Canada.

Needless to say it was quite an emotional moment.  I won't overly dwell on it here but I did have the sense that I was saying au revoir to a friend: JTB had become a real person as I had written about him and aspects of his character and physical appearance became apparent during my research. I really felt I knew him. However the sense of satisfaction that his memorial plaque was now in its rightful place back among his family was profound: I felt honoured and humbled that I could play a small part in paying tribute to his memory.