Monday, October 30, 2006

Cowboy Poll

Le Bon La Brute Le Truand
Poster from a Souffle Western

This week it's back to cowboys again. I'm doing a poll so please nominate 'winners' for the categories below. I'll publish the results combined with my own opinions (did I ever say this was a democracy) shortly. Feel free to add any categories I may have missed. Anyway, here we go: poll-me-up in the comments section...

1. The Coolest

2. The Nastiest

3. The Hardest/Toughest

4. The Funniest

5. The Most Annoying

6. The Most Camp

7. The Best Partnership

8. The Best Horse

9. The Best Cowgirl/Heroine

10.The Best Cowboy Movie

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Matters Equestrian

John Horseman_1
Mad Pup on horse in Co Wicklow, Ireland, c1959. MP's brother is holding the bridle.

I've never had much truck with horses. Somehow riding them never appealed. When growing up, I didn't seem to have much in common with horse-owning members of my peer group and I hated the intrusion of any program with an equine content (show jumping, racing, showing)on television. In more adult years I think it's fair to say that horses and I maintained a mutual disinterest and in addition I held a view that if God had intended us to ride these beasts, he wouldn't have allowed us to invent superchargers. So up until now my sum total of equestrian matters is (i) as a 10 year old, I sat on a cart horse of some description on my Uncle's farm in Ireland (see above picture) and (ii) a few years back I was bitten, yes, bitten, by some nag whose nose I was offering to stroke. Curiously enough I have ridden, and been thrown off, camels.

Recently, however, I've become curious about the whole riding business. I'm not quite sure why but it's proabably something to do with an interest in the Old West. So I've decided to add horse riding to "things to do before I slough the mortal coil" list. I mean it can't be THAT difficult, can it? Yes, I know it makes yer bum sore but so what. I have sore muscles all the time after aikido. So I hope to manage a lesson or two before the end of the year: watch this space for updates...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering John Peel: Mad Dog's Music

john peel
John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (aka John Peel):30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004. RIP.

Today is the anniversary of the passing of John Peel. I was profundly affected by his death two years ago: I'd been a devout listener from the time I first encountered him on Radio London in 1967/68 and then when he moved to the BBC after the demise of pirate radio. Not only did he influence my listening and record/CD collection but he became a sort of pillar of the establishement -a bit like the Beeb's shipping forecast or the saturday afternoon football results. He had a warm, comforting, reliable, voice and its absence came as a great shock and left a vacuum. So as a tribute, I've compiled a list of "JP-endorsed" bands that I saw in the golden era of 1967-1975 (my formative years as a student). I've trawled through YouTube for footage. I should point out that that (i) I had other favourites however couldn't find archived film clips (ii) I've omitted some great bands I've seen since that period e.g. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones even though they had received the JP stamp of approval but were mainstream, adult-oriented rock by the time I finally got to see them and (iii) I've left out some groups that, despite the JP endorsement I thought sucked like a truckload of Dysons (take note Third Ear Band, Hawkwind and Edgar Broughton -amazingly all still seem to be in existence). Anyway, here we go in alphabetical order:

A concert from my Cardiff days, c1972 at the Old Student’s Union. They were not particularly memorable except for the “Hold Your head Up” anthem which everyone loved.

Bond Organisation, The Graham
An amazing bunch of musicians. I’ve cheated a little with this clip as it’s pre-1967 but was all I could unearth. However it features Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, John McLaughlin and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith and is taken from a hilarious campy, sci-fi, flick, Gonks Go Beat). I think I saw Graham Bond first in the unlikely venue of Woking, c1969, and later as part of Ginger Baker’s Airforce at a festival in Sussex. His apparent suicide in 1974 was a great tragedy.

Sorry, this is a contemporary clip but it was all I could find. I first encountered Jon Hiseman’s mighty Colosseum at Guildford Tech around 1969 and then again at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff about two or three years later when they had recruited the amazing Chris Farlowe on vocals. Jon Hiseman was the first drummer I’d seen with twin bass skins. I’ve seen him many times since with Barbara Thompson’s jazz band, Paraphernalia.

Curved Air
Cardiff, 1972. A genteel and intellectual lot. I chatted to all of them. Sonja Kristina was strikingly lovely and very polite: I was quite besotted.

Deep Purple
Timeless power rock practitioners. I first say them at Guildford Tech, c1968 in their pre-"Smoke on the water..." days.

Fairport Convention
I saw them several times, the first being at the 1968 Jazz and Blues festival at Sunbury Race Course. John Peel was compering in a tent of smaller acts which included Reg Dwight (now Elton John). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip which included the wonderful Sandy Denny in the lineup.

Fleetwood Mac
Now this was a super band. I think I saw them first at the Albert Hall in the summer of 1969 along with Pentangle and the late, great, Duster Bennett. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group so dominated and controlled (in a positive sense) by then lead guitarist and founder Peter Green.

No they are not Jethro Tull! This combo of flying Dutchmen pitched up at Cardiff University Student Union along with half the population of South Wales who, needless to say, didn’t have tickets. It was 1973 and the band were at the peak of their fame. As part of the “Events” committee my job was to maintain the door security which was an impossible task. My memory is of a running battle the entire evening with Focus’ music playing as a soundtrack.

Humble Pie
Stadium yob rock at its best or worst depending on your POV. I encountered this bunch of hooligans during Cardiff Rag Week, c1973. Indeed I was on the committee that booked them. They were loud, raucous, and sent members of their entourage out to ensnare young females to entertain messrs Marriott, Frampton et al. after the concert (there seemed to be no lack of willing volunteers). One of their roadies knocked me off stage while I was photographing the band: as I was the official photographer for the event my pride was severely dented although the camera remained intact.

Kinks, The
A tremendously enjoyable, professional, bunch that I saw at the Top Rank Ballroom, Cardiff, sometime in 1973. To this day they are one of my all time favourite bands from this era.

Kirk, Roland
I’m showing great restraint by inflicting only one jazz musician on you. My memories of Roland Kirk (or Rhaasan Roland Kirk as he became) emanate from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, around January 1970. RK was chaotic and charismatic: you’ve got to love a guy who can ply three saxophones at once, can do circular breathing (the first time I’d seen the technique) and wandered through the audience and out into the street while still playing. And he was simply the best jazz flute player I’ve seen, ever!

McTell, Ralph
I know “Streets of London” has become a bit clichéd but Ralph was/still is a great performer. I saw him in Cardiff on several occasions. Apologies for the contemporaneous clip but I couldn’t locate any classic old stuff.

Moody Blues
I think the first group I ever saw. Guildford Tech c1967. I’ve liked the use of flute in rock music (not to mention jazz) ever since.

Nice, The
One of the very first groups I saw -again at Guildford. Keith Emerson played with his organ in spectacular style. Unfortunately these antics degenerated into pretentious wankery with Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Perhaps one of the most complete and accomplished groups I’ve seen to this day. I saw them first in Guildford. They played together in the most complimentary manner. Jacqui McShee’s voice was angelic and the John Renbourne-Bert Jansch guitar partnership just magical. John Peel wrote the sleeve notes to the band’s first album (which I still have).

Not an intellectual or virtuoso band but they could work the crowd like nobody else. They were a student union favourite and I must have seen them on three or four occasions during my Cardiff years.

Steeleye Span
This lot were just great. Lively, engaging and super musicians. Maddy Prior’s voice was always pristine. I wish I could have found a clip with a more interesting song though..

Tull, Jethro
Ah yes, another enduring fave from my first ever rock concert at which John Peel was in attendance. I’ve remained a fan of Ian Anderson through thick and thin even though he sorely tested my loyalty with a lot of crappy offerings in the 1980s.

Who, The
A slight cheat here as I didn’t see The Who in the golden era. I did try though. In my first week as a freshman undergraduate in Cardiff (1970) I failed to obtain tickets to see them although subsequently met Keith Moon (absolutely plastered) when he was guest drummer with a visiting band, Sha-Na-Na. He shook my hand, gave me a stick of “Cardiff Rock” and implored me to “Rock on, man”. I didn’t wash my hand for a week afterwards! I eventually got to see The Who around 1980 but by that time Moon the Loon had sadly self-destructed through vomit inhalation.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Facts and Figures


Sir Mick and the boys were in town two nights ago, apparently their 10th visit to Seattle since 1965. I watched their armada of trucks unload equipment in the parking lot behind my place of employment and the roadies wheel it over to the adjacent Qwest field football stadium. And it was a lot of stuff too. So much so that it takes a fleet of 70 articulated trucks or “semis” as they call them over here to transport it across the country. The special stage weighs 300 tons, occupies 20,400 sq ft and has a 2,450sq ft video wall. All of this equipment is lugged about and assembled by a road crew of 235 and 150 local workers are hired to build and take down the stage.

I have to say that having grown up with the RS their longevity, both individually and collectively, has been quite amazing especially considering their lifestyle. The have outlasted six US presidential administrations, seven British Prime Ministers, Vietnam, the Falklands, Gulf War No. 1 (unfortunately not yet Iraq or Afghanistan), Watergate and even The Beatles. As a matter of trivia, Charlie Watts and I employed the services of the same hairstylist in London back in the early 1990s.

Reviews of their concert were very enthusiastic. Mick strutted and pranced around the stage in a highly energetic fashion for two hours; Keith Richards, true to form, chain smoked. The music was classic stones and the special effects and firework finale were spectacular. Did I go, I hear you ask? You must be joking. I saw them at Wembley Stadium in 1981 and am still traumatized by the length of time it took to get out of the parking lot. Also I find the way that iconoclastic values have been dumped in favour of mainstream corporate adoption and sponsorship (RS tunes are used to sell just about everything from banks to cars these days) quite objectionable. And besides I’m not prepared to spend $700 on a ticket. Funnily enough I’ve never had an RS record or CD in my collections either. Now tonight I’m off to see Pink Martini who are more my style these days.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Highway 1 Revisited

Mad Dog at the Lone Cypress, Carmel, c1984. There's something quite disturbing about the tightness of those jeans…

Today is Part 2 of my account of the roadtrip I made up the California Pacific Coast Highway back in August. North of Hearst castle and San Simeon the road winds along the Big Sur coastline in spectacular fashion for a hundred miles or so before arriving in Carmel and Monterey. At Carmel I resisted the temptation to have a “Dirty Harry Burger” at Clint Eastwood’s Hog’s Breath Inn. I did, however, take the opportunity to cruise along the 17 mile drive –a spectacular stretch of privately owned beach road that passes through some of the most amazingly expensive real estate and golf courses in the country. I made this run over 20 years ago. Nothing much has changed except that the Lone Cypress tree seems to have more preservative in it than Lenin as it looked like it was on its last twigs back in 1984. But overall the scenery is as gorgeous as ever.
Lone Cypress
The image-trademarked (yes, really) Lone Cypress has either been filled full of embalming fluid or replaced since my last visit!

Monterey was awash with tourists but even so they failed to disturb the Steinbeckian images evoked by Cannery Row. It’s a truly lovely place. I did visit the Monterey Aquarium of which I’d heard great things. Sadly I was sorely disappointed to find a theme-parked, Disney-like playground full of hyperglycemic children and not the natural habitat that I’d expected. The fun-loving sea otters compensated for a lot, though.
Blue jay
Blue Jay atop a fence at Nepenthe –the nicest place imaginable to stop for a drink.

After Monterey I pointed the Jag in the direction of San Francisco and continued my trip north…

Monday, October 16, 2006

Citizen Hearst

Pacific Coast Highway
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway (please don’t ask how I got the photo).

OK, OK, I had no idea that my last piece of frippery about cowboys, horses and the Wld West would stir up so much interest, so I’ll post on these topics again in the near future.

But for now I want to say a bit more about the road trip up the California Pacific Coast Highway back in August before it fades from neuro-retention. If you are not familiar with Highway 1, it’s sufficient to say that it is one of the greatest coastal roads in the world. It runs from Southern California to San Francisco and has a backdrop of breathtakingly spectacular ocean scenery. The stretch south of Monterey known as "Big Sur" is simply magnificent and that whole region is quintessential California. If you ever get the chance to drive it don’t hesitate or you’ll miss out on one of the spectacular drives on the planet.

Half-way between posh Santa Barbara in the south and historic Monterey in the north lies San Simeon and the amazing Hearst Castle. Built by newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947 on a 250,000 acre estate known as 'La Cuesta Encantada' ('The Enchanted Hill' if my O level Spanish is still holding up) is not only an astonishing feat of construction but an extraordinary collection of art treasures looted purchased from around the world.
Hearst Castle 1
Hearst Castle façade in the style of a Spanish cathedral by San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan.

It’s really quite astonishing what you can do when money is no object. Hearst made (and lost) a fortune or two in his lifetime. He pioneered jingoistic, sensationalist journalism (Rupert Murdoch paid close attention to this model) and agitated for the Spanish-American war. The principle character in Orson Welles’ film “Citizen Kane” was modeled on Hearst (I still haven’t figured out why it’s everybody’s favourite movie -it’s a miserable, charmless, flick IMHO). Throughout all this, Hearst continued to build the castle and fitted it out with an amazing art collection. The grounds were populated by exotic animals and The Ranch became the place to visit for the rich and famous. Film stars, politicians, adventurers, writiers, socialites and captains of industry were all to be seen at The Ranch (as Hearst liked to call it) during its heyday.
Hearst Castle 2
One of the pools at Hearst Castle. The parthenon-like structure was constructed with genuine Greco-Roman columns.

But all good things come to an end and following another financial reversal and then William Randolph’s death in 1951, the Hearst Corporation donated The Ranch to the State of California in 1957. Definitely the public’s gain. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw summed up the place the best when he said: "This is what God would have built if he had had the money."
Hearst Castle 3
Despite the fact that Hearst Castle is now in the public domain, the hoi polloi are not allowed in the pool!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quick Draw

Sprint advertisement

This post is a reflection on what a sad bastard I've become in my dotage. First it highlights an increasing obsession with YouTube, second, it reflects a childhood fascination with cowboys and the American Old West and third, it indicates that I can be quite easily amused by superficial, physical humour. But I don't care; I find this video clip, an advertisement for Sprint broadband, quite hilarious. Oh, and if anybody is interested, it's taken from a 1970 spaghetti western called Lo chiamavano Trinità (They Call Me Trinity) starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Curiously both of these actors are Italian...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oh, bugger...!

Mushroom cloud

I note the human race's self-destruct gene is in full evidence. I suspect this can only end in tears...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tidy Up

I've just removed a cartload of links from the sidebar. They were either dead, dead boring, unfunny or politically rebarbative. Others are on probation. There seem to be a lot of bloggers, notably scientists, running out of steam (don't look at me) which is a shame. So from now on, sites that don't offer a new post after three months will be deemed moribund and, unless I hear to the contrary, will be purged.

P.S. October 9th 2006. OK, don't say I didn't warn you. I've just deleted links to another dozen tragically dull or deceased web logs. If you want to stay here please keep writing and be nice.

Monday, October 02, 2006

New Wheels

Old Jag
The friendly old cat that was Mad Dog's daily driver for five years.

There has been a truly silly level of travel activity in the Mad Dog kennels recently. So much so that time available for blogging has been severely restricted. However I really should mention a trip to San Diego, California, I took back in August. The purpose was to pick up a new (used) car from old friend, mechanic, English ex-pat and generally top bloke, Mel Muzio. Back in 2001 when I arrived once again on the shores of the New World I needed an inexpensive pair of wheels to traverse the greater Seattle area. Mel had mentioned he had a decent 1988 Jaguar Vanden Plas for sale. It was a high mileage car but inexpensive so I flew down to California, stumped up the readies and drove back to Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend with my daughter who was keen to take a look at the University of Washington as a potential site for her tertiary education. Frankly I was nervous about the concept of an old Jag and catastrophic bills but then I was really only planning to keep the car for a year and get one of new MINI Coopers that were due to be imported.

Well its funny how things change. I had never seen myself as the driver of a Jaguar saloon -too big, bourgeois, expensive and stodgy. Up until that point I preferred small, high-powered, noisy buzz boxes. So it was slightly disconcerting to realise that I loved wafting around in the Jag. I was calmer, less aggressive and reaally enjoyed its cache effect. Everybody loves these old cats, even when they have faded paint and are clearly a bit past their prime. So after the first year of ownership I did not trade up (or down?) for a MINI but elected to continue driving my iconic piece of UKmobilia. And so I continued for five years when it became clear that a change would be necessary in the interests of both safety and economy. Once again I contacted friend Mel who said that he had just the car for me: a black 1998 XJ8 in pristine condition and with all the worrying mechanical weak spots for that year corrected. So once again I flew down to San Diego, completed the transaction and drove back to Seattle. This time however, I didn't blast back in wintry rain and snow as I did in 2001 but opted for a leisurely cruise along the sunny and stunningly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco before jumping onto the more business like Interstate 5 to Portland, Oregon and Seattle. I arrived back home feeling relaxed and refreshed (note to self: the feeling had better better last, pal, as it's the only vacation you're going to get this year!)

New XJ8
Black Cat, Mad Dog and Mel.

Big Sur
Big Cat on Big Sur.

And what about the car you ask? Well I'm still learning about it and I sometimes have to (Heaven forbid) consult the owners manual. In essence it has a 300hp V8 motor with sports exhaust, traction control, electronic stability control, cupholders (a first for me) as well as a 6 CD player ("so 1990" I know, but again this is a first for me). The interior materials must have required the clear cutting of a forest of burr walnut and the extermination of several large quadripeds. Overall it's quite gorgeous and according to the onboard computer is drinking at the very reasonable rate of 19.4 mpg (and don't forget that's US gallons, not 10% larger Imperial measure). My only reservation is the rear windows which are tinted black: while fine for Southern Californian pursuits such as drug dealing and drive-by shootings they are less suitable for the Pacific Northwest where these activities are less popular.