Categories
culture

Consuming Culture: 16-31 Jan 2020

Here are brief descriptions of the various cultural things I did in the second half of January 2020.

Food: 12:51 (Islington, 2020-01-18)

Our second visit to 12:51, but the first time we tried the tasting menu. It’s a bit pricy (£75 a head, I think) but it’s well worth it. The food was wonderful. And on the night we were there, James Cochran (the chef who owns the restaurant) was there – although he was serving, rather than being in the kitchen.

Food: Wolkite Kitfo (Holloway, 2020-01-24)

This is an Ethiopian restaurant near Arsenal’s new stadium. Ethiopian food is really interesting. It’s usually served piled up on a flatbread called injera. You then tear off bits of the injera and use it to scoop up bits of the food and put it in your mouth. So the injera doubles as both plate and cutlery. If you’re interested (and I think you should be) then this is a nice local restaurant in which to try it.

Art: 24/7 (Somerset House, 2020-01-29)

The subtitle for this exhibition is “A wake-up call for our non-stop world”. The pieces here all examine the way that the world has changed over the last twenty years so we are now all more connected much more of the time and how that has affected us. It’s a very thought-provoking exhibition and I highly recommend you seeing it.

Film: The Personal History of David Copperfield (Screen on the Green, 2020-01-29)

I’ve never read David Copperfield. I don’t remember even seeing another film or TV adaptation. So I was probably one of very few people in the cinema who didn’t know the plot. And, therefore, I have no idea how much this film deviates from the book. It certainly feels like a rather modern take on the book (although it’s very much set in the nineteenth century). There’s a great cast and a cracking script. I loved it.

Gig: John Grant (Roundhouse, 2020-01-29)

I love John Grant’s music and see him live whenever I can (I already have a ticket to see him again at the start of May). This gig was part of the Roundhouse’s “In the Round” where artists play to an all-seated audience. This was a stripped-back set (just John on piano and a keyboard player) which meant that some of his more complex songs were skipped. But he played everything I wanted to hear – even finishing with a great version of “Chicken Bones”.

Gig: Hate Moss (Old Blue Last, 2020-01-30)

It is many years since I was last at the Old Blue Last for a gig. I was drawn back by an old friend who was first on the bill, playing as M-Orchestra. I stayed on to see the other two acts. Kill Your Boyfriends were a bit noisy for my tastes, but Hate Moss were well worth staying out for. I’ll be looking out for them playing London again.

Dance: Sadlers Wells Sampled (Sadlers Wells, 2020-01-31)

I’ve been in London for over 35 years and I’ve never been to Sadlers Wells. And if you’re going to fix that, then it makes good sense to go on a night where there’s a selection of different types of dance on display. There were eight different acts during the night – from traditional Indian dance and tango to really experimental dance from Company Wayne McGregor and Géométrie Variable. I’m no expert in dance and this was a great introduction to the breadth of options available.

Categories
culture

Consuming Culture: 1-15 Jan 2020

I want to do more blogging this year. So one thing I’m going to do is to write about the cultural experiences that I have. My plan is to write short reviews of any films, plays, exhibitions and lectures that I go to. To start us off, here’s what I did in the first half of January.

Film: Last Christmas (Vue Islington, 2020-01-01)

Yes, this got some terrible reviews, but cheesy romcoms are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. This isn’t up to the standards of Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill, but I really enjoyed it. And I don’t care how much you judge me for that.

Art: Wonder Factory (Dalston Works, 2020-01-03)

This was weird. Fifteen rooms have been turned into Instagram-friendly art installations. They are of variable quality, but the best installations (like the marshmallow swimming pool) are very good. It’s only around until early February (and it seems they’re now only opening at the weekend) so you should get along to see it soon.

Film: Jojo Rabbit (Screen on the Green, 2020-01-05)

The Hitler Youth isn’t the most obvious subject for comedy, but this film manages to pull it off brilliantly. It’s obviously a very delicate balance but director, Taika Waititi, gets it spot on – while also playing a very funny imaginary Adolf Hitler. I see this has been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar; and that’s well-deserved.

VR: Doctor Who – Edge of Time (Other World, 2020-01-05)

Other World is a virtual reality arcade in Haggerston and currently, one of the VR experiences they are offering is the Doctor Who game, Edge of Time. Players are put in their individual pods and loaded up with all their VR equipment (headset, headphones and a controller for each hand) by staff before being left alone to help the Thirteenth Doctor save the universe. I confess I got a bit stuck trying to get the Tardis to dematerialise, but I really enjoyed myself and am very tempted to go back for another try.

Play: A Kind of People (Royal Court Theatre, 2020-01-06)

The Royal Court has a brilliant scheme where they make tickets for Monday evening performances available for £12 each. That price makes it very tempting to see plays that you know nothing about. And that’s what we did for this. We really had no idea what this play was about. It turns out that it’s an investigation of the various prejudices (racism, sexism, class snobbery, …) that bubble under the surface of British society. I’d recommend you go and see it, but it closes in a couple of days.

Meeting: Tech For UK Post-Election Debrief (Onfido Ltd, 2020-01-08)

I want to get along to more tech meet-ups this year and this was my first. Tech For UK is a group of techies who volunteer their time to build tools that increase democratic engagement in the UK. You can see some examples at voter.tools (this includes my site – TwittElection). This meeting was a discussion about what the group had been doing during the election campaign and where they should focus their efforts in the future.

Art: Bridgit Riley (Hayward Gallery, 2020-01-15)

I want to make more use of my South Bank membership, and this was a free after-hours, members’ viewing of the exhibition. This is a retrospective of Riley’s whole career and, therefore, is a great introduction to the breadth of her work. She’s a fascinating artist (if one who occasionally produces art that can give you a bit of a headache). I recommend seeing the exhibition – but hurry, it closes on 26 January.

Categories
music

2019 in Gigs

It’s time that I wrote my now-traditional review of the gigs I saw last year.

It felt like I didn’t see so many gigs this year, but Songkick tells me I saw 43 which was more than the previous year (but still some considerable way short of the 60 I saw in 2013). I’ll get to the best ones in a minute, but let’s talk about a few of the disappointments first.

The first gig I saw in the year was the Residents at the Union Chapel. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but it was all a bit disjointed and amateur-sounding, so I left before very long. Having really enjoyed the Bananarama reunion tour a couple of years ago, I was looking forward to seeing them (now Siobhan-less) again, particularly at a lovely little venue like Omeara – but they were a terrible disappointment and wanted to play their new album instead of the hits that I wanted to hear. I really wanted to enjoy the post-Pete Shelley Buzzcocks show at the Albert Hall, but it was a lot like a third-rate Buzzcocks tribute band and I left quite a while before the end.

And here, in chronological order, are my ten favourite gigs of the year.

  • Tears For Fears: This was postponed from the previous year. It takes a good band to make it worth going to the O2 Arena. And Tears for Fears certainly hit the spot.
  • Desperate Journalist: An up and coming band that I really want to hear more from. Oh, and they were supported by She Makes War, who is always worth seeing.
  • Grant: This was a slightly strange one. A night of Scandinavian music at the Lexington. We went because we wanted to see the first act, Moses Hightower (who were great). Grant was on next and she totally blew us away. I think we left soon after she finished.
  • Stealing Sheep: I don’t get to see Stealing Sheep as often as I used too, but they were touring this year because of their new album. I saw them twice. I enjoyed the show at Earth in Dalston the most. That’s them in the photo above.
  • Sleeper: I never got to see Sleeper back in the 90s. But I saw them twice this year. I think I just prefered the show at the 100 Club.
  • Swimming Girls: I’ve seen Swimming Girls as a support act and really wanted to see them playing a headline show. I finally got to do that at the Lexington this year. And then they announced they were splitting up.
  • Cut Copy: A band that I hadn’t heard of at the start of this year. But this show at Somerset House was great and I’d certainly see them again.
  • Sunflower Bean: I always love seeing Sunflower Bean and this was at the Borderline (just before it closed down) and I thought the days of seeing them in venues this small were long past.
  • Midge Ure: This was pure nostalgia. Midge Ure’s current band played all Visage’s first album and Ultravox’s “Vienna” – two albums that he recorded in 1980.
  • Amanda Palmer: This wasn’t really a gig. It was more of a four-hour-long, intense psychotherapy session with occasional songs. I saw the prototype for this show in Edinburgh last year, but the full version was sensational.

Just outside of this list are shows by Pale Waves, Lloyd Cole, Wildwood Kin and OMD.

Oh, and I have a new regular gig-going companion this year. I asked her what her favourite gig of the year was and she voted for the Grant show at the Lexington.

2020 is already shaping up well. I have tickets to see John Grant (twice), Tove Lo and Ladytron. And there’s some heavyweight nostalgia coming – with gigs by the Pet Shop Boys and Bauhaus.

What about you? What live music did you really enjoy in 2019?

Categories
life

2020 Vision

I’ve been working in this industry for a long time – over thirty years. For most of that time, I’ve been working as a freelancer, but it’s always been working for someone else. When I set up Magnum Solutions (my freelancing company) in 1995 I always had a vague desire to grow it into a company that wasn’t just me selling my time and skills to other companies. But I’ve never really known how I wanted to do that.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of those thirty years building web sites in my spare time. Whether it’s my (now, long defunct) BBC Streams project or current sites like Line of Succession or TwittElection, there’s always something that I’m tinkering with. Some of them get some small level of popularity. None of them has ever made me enough money that I could consider giving up the freelancer life in order to spend more time on one of these projects.

This year has been slightly different. This was the year that the market for Perl freelancers in London finally hit the level at which I decided to take a permanent job. So I’ve been working for Equals (formerly FairFX) as a senior developer since February. But even that didn’t feel quite right. It felt a bit like a step backwards to go back to being an employee.

And then, while on holiday a month ago, something crystalised for me during a conversation with a friend. She asked how I’d really like to spend my time and I replied that I’d like to take time off from working nine to five and spent it trying to turn one or more of my side-projects into a real business. She asked what was stopping me from doing that and I replied that I didn’t have enough money. She laughed and asked me what the money in the ISA that I’ve been paying into on and off for the last decade was for. I’d always vaguely assumed it was for “the future” (whatever that means) but I realised that she was right. There was no reason at all why I shouldn’t use some of that money to support myself while I took time off work to do what I really wanted.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve given notice at Equals and I’m leaving just before Christmas. And for the first six months of 2020, I’ll be living off my savings while I try to find some way to make a living from the various business ideas I’ve been doing almost nothing with for the last thirty years.

I’m going to be structured about it. I plan to try six things for a month each. I have an idea what the first two or three things will be but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into any detail right now. I do want to be very open about what I’m doing while I’m doing it – I’ve set up a new web site at davecross.co.uk and I’ll be writing about my projects there. Hey, even if nothing takes off, perhaps there’s a book in the reports of all my failures.

At the end of June, I’ll take stock and decide whether it’s worth continuing the experiment.

And that’s what I’m calling my “2020 Vision”. Because bad puns are the basis of good marketing – or something like that.

Categories
music

2018 in Gigs

It’s the last day of 2018, and I know I’m not going to a gig tonight, so that sounds like a very good time for my annual review of the gigs I’ve seen this year.

Songkick tells me that I saw 35 gigs in 2018. That’s the lowest number since I’ve been counting them. It’s even one fewer than 2012 when I had the excuse of having my leg in plaster for six months. I’m not sure why the number is so low. Perhaps I’m getting pickier about what I see.

Let’s start by talking about a few of the disappointments. I don’t know what I was expecting when I booked to see Kristin Hersh, but she didn’t deliver and I left just after she sang “Your Ghost”. I was similarly disappointed by The Primitives – I left after a few songs and didn’t even wait to hear “Crash”. But easily the worst show I saw this year was Tiffany. Yes, I know. I admit it was a bit of a gamble. But when I wondered aloud on Twitter about seeing the show, Tiffany replied, so I felt it was rude not to go. I lasted three songs before leaving.

On the other hand, here (in chronological order) are my ten favourite gigs of the year.

  • Superorganism at Oval Space. If there’s any justice in the world, this will be one of those gigs that people claim to have been at. But only a few hundred of us were. If you haven’t heard Superorganism’s album, then I suggest you give it a listen. And then try to see them live as soon as you can.
  • Lily Allen at the Dome. I’ve seen Lily Allen at the Brixton Academy before and she was pretty good. But I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see her in a small venue like this. It didn’t matter that most of the set was made up of her new album – she was great.
  • Arcade Fire at Wembley Arena. Not many bands can persuade me to visit the soulless box that is Wembley Arena. But I’m glad I made an exception for Arcade Fire. They were (as always) sensational.
  • Florence + the Machine at the Royal Festival Hall. I’m not a huge Florence fan but when she announced this sudden gig at the South Bank, I jumped at the chance to see her again. Through the magic of my South Bank membership, I got a front-row seat and loved every minute of the show.
  • Pale Waves at Heaven. I saw Pale Waves twice this year, but I think the smaller show at Heaven just trumped the bigger show I saw later in the year at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.
  • David Byrne at the Hammersmith Odeon. It’s one of my great disappointments that I never saw Talking Heads live. This was my second time seeing David Byrne (the first time, he was playing with St Vincent) and this show was absolutely amazing. He did it again later in the year at the O2 Arena, so I’m glad I saw it in a smaller venue.
  • The Cure at the Royal Festival Hall. This wasn’t billed as the Cure (for contractual reasons, I think) but everyone knew that’s what Robert Smith was planning. This was an incredible, chronological journey through the band’s music.
  • Amanda Palmer at the Queen’s Hall. It’s been a couple of years since Amanda Palmer made this list and it’s great to report she’s back on top form. These shows at the Edinburgh Festival were a prototype for a tour she’s planning to take around the world over the next two years. I suggest you try really hard not to miss it. (I’ve just remembered that I saw her earlier in the year too – but that show is not on Songkick as it was a private event for her Patreon supporters. That was awesome too.)
  • Soft Cell at the O2 Arena. I never saw Soft Cell when they were first around and I walked out of a Marc Almond show a couple of years ago. But there was no chance I’d miss this. Even the O2 couldn’t suck the life out of a Soft Cell show.
  • All Saints at the Hammersmith Odeon. A little bit of cheese to end the year. All Saints were a bit of a guilty pleasure twenty years ago and they’re still a lot of fun these days.

Although I saw fewer shows this year, they must have been of higher quality than usual. I can’t believe that Sunflower Bean (who I saw twice), the Art of Noise, Belle and Sebastian or Heaven 17 didn’t make the top ten. Even Yes were far better than I’ve ever seen them before.

So that was 2018. I already have some interesting things lined up for 2019 – a Tears For Fears show that was postponed from this year, Chvrches (for what seems the first time for far too long), ABC and Nick Mason playing some old Pink Floyd numbers are among the tickets I’ve already bought. I also have ticket to see the Buzzcocks for the first time, but I’m not sure if that will still go ahead following the death of Pete Shelley.

What about you? What did you enjoy seeing live this year?

 

Categories
tech

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