Blog posts by year and month May 2012

Posts (74)

  1. Last week was a difficult one for me. On Monday I fell off my bicycle, cut my knees, grazed my left hand, my left elbow, both of my feet (no idea how that happened) and worst of all, put a little hole in the knee of my favourite black jeans. On Wednesday, as a result of an overly enthusiastic up bow crescendo that got a little out of control, I managed to move my A string several millimetres to the left along the bridge and took a chunk out of the string binding. Then on Sunday, while on the Cardiff Bay barrage revising for my upcoming OU History exam (argh!), I got woefully sunburnt, proving once again that Irish skin should never be exposed to temperatures in excess of 10 degrees. However, in the middle of all this woe there was Daniel Hope playing Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. I was rota'd off, so had the opportunity to listen. It dramatically improved my week. Many people find this concerto disconcertingly bleak. To be fair, the first movement is not exactly sunbeams and fairies, but as it was composed during the period of Zhdanov's persecution of many Russian artistic figures, I don't think these sentiments were high up Shostakovich's emotional spectrum at the time of its composition. The second movement can be described in no way other than demonic, and frankly, I think I would need a little lie down after playing it - it demands such stamina from soloist and orchestra! The Passacaglia is heart rending and the extended solo cadenza bridging the third and fourth movements (surely large enough in scope to almost be considered a separate movement in its own right) doesn't so much give way to the finale as it crashes headlong into it. The full throttle finale feels as much like a race to the death as it does a race to the end. Having recorded this work in 2006 with our colleagues at the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Hope is obviously exceedingly familiar with both of Shostakovich's violin concertos. However, at no point did this feel like a mundane repetition of a work trawled out for the umpteenth time. Daniel has amazing technical facility, but that's not what made his playing of this concerto so satisfying for me. He took risks. Instead of a concerto performance that simply begged to be admired for its technical prowess, what we got was an interpretation that genuinely took the audience on a journey. I know that's a cliché, but sometimes clichés become clichés because they're true. Mr Hope's playing reminded me that I want to take risks with my own playing. It's not enough to play the notes on a page, these are only the composer's blue print. Rather, we have to strive and strive to find the soul behind the music, no matter whether the work be a Bach suite, a brand spanking new contemporary work, a mammoth of the symphonic canon, or a heart wrenching concerto such as Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto.

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  2. The line-up for next month's Dinefwr Literature Festival has been announced, with National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke opening the first day. More than 100 literature, music, arts and comedy events will take place at the bilingual festival, which runs from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July at Dinefwr Park and Castle in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. Among the spoken-word guests will be Andrew Motion, Tim Burgess, Howard Marks, Jasper Fforde, Robert Minhinnick and Wendy Cope. Comedy will be provided by John Hegley, Simon Munnery, Josie Long, Tom Wrigglesworth and others, while music performers will include Julian Cope, Gruff Rhys, Georgia Ruth, Ghostpoet and Emmy The Great. Lleucu Siencyn, one of the festival's directors, said: "This is a festival with everybody in mind - families, music fans, readers, writers and those who love the great outdoors." Weekend, day and camping tickets are available, with discounts for National Trust and Literature Wales members.

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  3. Merthyr Rock, Hay Festival's rock and indie offshoot, has today announced the first tranche of artists confirmed for the late summer event. Razorlight Razorlight, Kids In Glass Houses, Deaf Havana, Saves The Day, Yashin and Arcane Roots will perform at Merthyr Rock, which takes place ...

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  4. Today, 30 May, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one of Wales' Oscar-winning actors, Hugh Griffith. Griffith scooped the gong in 1960 for best actor in a supporting role, as he played Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur alongside Charlton Heston. He beat fellow actors Arthur O'Connell and George C Scott, both nominated for Anatomy Of A Murder, Robert Vaughn (The Young Philadelphians) and Ed Wynn, for his role in The Diary Of Anne Frank, to take the award. Hugh Griffith in costume for the BBC Playhouse production of The Joke in 1974 Born in Marianglas in Anglesey in 1912, Griffith was awarded a scholarship to RADA and left his career in banking to enter the acting profession. However, he had to put his career on hold as with the outbreak of World War Two he enlisted in the British army and served in India and Burma. Griffith's film career took off in the late 1940s. He broke into the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s and went on to star with some of the biggest names in the business. He appeared with Laurence Olivier in The Beggar's Opera (1953), Dirk Bogarde in The Sleeping Tiger (1954) plus Marlon Brando and Richard Harris in Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) . Griffith received another Oscar nomination in the category of best supporting actor for 1963 blockbuster Tom Jones as well as a Bafta nomination for best British actor and a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. All three awards sadly proved elusive. Kenneth Griffith, Aubrey Woods, Hugh Griffith and Cyril Cusack in the 1971 BBC drama Clochemerle The late film critic and historian Dave Berry said of Griffith: Griffith had long been a stage and TV favourite, since at least 1951 when in Mario Zampi's comedy Laughter in Paradise he played a dying eccentric who, for one last jape, forces relatives into acts alien to their natures to secure a share of his legacy. Never has a bedridden incipient corpse rolled his eyes more to convey sheer devilry, and rarely has so little screen time been put to such use by a class performer. The Welsh actor was always in his roistering element in comedies bursting with life, and many enjoyed the burlesque relish of his Oscar-nominated supporting role as the eccentric Squire Western in Tony Richardson's ebullient Tom Jones (1963), from Henry Fielding's classic. Griffith conveys superbly the cant, hypocrisy and devil-may-care qualities of a man delighting in getting his own way, but gives Tom Jones (Albert Finney) unforgettably uncomfortable moments in the hero's sexual odyssey. Further success in the 1960s followed with notable roles in How To Steal A Million (1966) with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole and the musical adaptation of Oliver! (1968) starring Oliver Reed and Harry Secombe. Aside from Ben-Hur, Griffith is perhaps most associated with the film comedy Grand Slam. It follows a group of Paris-bound Welsh rugby fans making the trip across the Channel to watch the climactic match in the Five Nations championship in the late 1970s. He played the undertaker Caradog Lloyd-Evans alongside Windsor Davies and Dewi Morris. It was a huge hit, and is still popular with Welsh rugby fans today. Griffith died of a heart attack in 1980, aged 67. Related links BBC Wales Arts: Top 10 Welsh actors article by Dave Berry Hugh Griffith on the Internet Movie Database website Profile on the BFI Screen Online website

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  5. The grass snake Natrix natrix or more aptly named water snake is a non-venomous snake found throughout the UK and Europe. The largest of our three native snakes, it can grow over 1.5m in length with the females being larger than the males. A grass snake recently photographed by Darren Harries. They're normally olive green or brown in colour with a characteristic yellow collar behind the head. The undersides are paler white with distinctive blocks of black. Grass snakes can be tricky to spot due to their speed, agility and camouflage and are one of the few animals that will fake death, becoming completely limp if cornered. Another defensive technique they use is to excrete a foul smelling liquid from their anal glands which apparently takes a long time to remove from your hands - should you be tempted to pick one up. Like most snakes, you have to be extremely lucky and patient to spot one, as they will invariably slither away at the slightest vibration as you approach. Grass snakes are excellent swimmers so your best chance of seeing one is actually when it's swimming in water or curled up in a pond hiding under foliage near the bank. A swimming grass snake by Rat Salad. Grass snakes prefer being close to water where they prey upon frogs, toads, small fish and the occasional small mammal or bird. As Britain's only egg laying snake, a favourite haunt is in garden compost heaps which provide the perfect conditions for incubating their eggs in. Grass snakes eggs will lay up to 40 eggs which require temperatures between 21-28 degrees with plenty of humidity. Grass snake by Dave Hill @ DEFRA After about 10 weeks the young snakes emerge in early autumn but few reach adulthood, becoming prey to other animals and as a result of this and loss of habitat, these snakes are now in decline. The head markings on the snakes are unique like a fingerprint and can be used to identify individuals age, sex and distribution If you do happen to find a grass snake in your garden then don't panic, they're completely harmless and you're incredibly lucky to have one. BBC Wildlife Finder: Grass snakes Wikipedia: Grass snakes Herpetofauna.co.uk

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  6. The weather's certainly played its part in the torch relay so far - a bit cloudier today with bright spells but not quite as warm as recent days. Some mist and low cloud in Beaumaris, turning brighter and warmer along the coast towards Rhyl and just a little cloudy at times as the torch relay...

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  7. It's too hot to breathe, let alone listen to molten, leftfield, musical aceness. Central Station has a tin roof and tonight all of the cats are inside being baked. As Mowbird plug their instruments in, I'm dreaming of being reincarnated as a salmon, leaping out of chill, frothy waters on my way to a spawning ground up near the Arctic Circle. Or an ice cream bath. Mowbird are surf twang gone so wrong, it's right; Guided By Voices distracted by UFO tail lights; liberated garage punks grottying canvases in an art school studio. They start off Shaky and finish Jerry Lee Lewis. They're The Castaways' Liar Liar in a Molotov Cocktail aimed at SyCo HQ. Metaphorically speaking, of course. So, despite an apparent lack of familiarity with their own songs at the start of the set, they still have tunes to dye your hair for. Scratchy, fuzzy things that burst and pop with off kilter melodies half inched from the B movies of a parallel dimension. Or The Pixies' first two albums. I really need to learn some contemporary reference points. So much of the music I hear is overboiled tasteless by its own competence: bands who've sacrificed the fun out of it all before the Altar of Sheen. Even David Beckham - a man who looks like he could find his own visage in a coal forest on a cloudclad, midwinter night - would struggle to see his reflection in Mowbird. They are great fun. Wrexham cocks up the B-52's, more-or-less magnificently. Mowbird Imagine if The Vaccines had a whiff of freshness about them, rather than the antiseptic odour of a Q journalist's impeccably right-on record collection of 'edgy' music. But Guided By Voices is my favourite comparison, of too many. Sorry. Influential labels are sniffing around their impeccable crotches. They might want to give it a few days and a couple of showers after this sweatfest, though. Trying to breathe at the merchandise stall - counting pound coins in my pocket to see if I have enough for a fresh t-shirt - I am suddenly surrounded by chimes. Mark Islet is behind me. Another Islet is sat at the table across the room. They've playing some weird bell-like things, like campanologists from Hamlyn. We all stop what we're doing (bar the breathing) and allow them to lead us to the stage. If Islet were magicians they wouldn't make things disappear or appear - that'd be too obvious. They'd make things evolve in front of our eyes. Even an aged hack like me, steeped in decades of strange, communally-fashioned music mostly from Germany - can ear-smell the aural freshness here. It's no wonder they eschew most of the tropes of modern band-dom. No Tweets, no Facebook, no obvious entry, or exit, points. 'Songs' so nebulous, yet all there, they'd have Thom Yorke locking himself in his yurt, crying luminous green tears. Because whilst Islet are, no doubt, conceptual, and pretentious, and art school, and dangerously close to being dressed in new togs that would fit Eeyore emperors, they're also - you know - really, really, REALLY good. They may spend their entire set torching the rock 'n' roll rulebook, but that - no longer - comes across as their raison d'etre. Perhaps it never was, but it was the impression they gave off, in those early days of self-marooning themselves at the periphery of what we loosely call rock 'n' roll. When an instrument gets swapped tonight, and a face changes place on the stage, it's in subservience to the music, not as an affectation to make the audience gape at the audacious unexpectedness of it all. There is a great sense of infinite possibility about the band. The album tracks act only as templates for the actual performance. Some things stutter, as should be expected on the first night of any tour (Entwined Pines trips over its own aceness), other things take on a mystical life of their own, transforming Central Station's pragmatic, sulphuric innards into one of Live And Let Die's voodoo cermonies, but with more drums and distorted synth. It's mostly about rhythm - and how primal and hypnotic rhythms can be intertwining within and without each other. This has far more in common with the less regimented, more experimental, edges of dance music than it does 'indie' music. Thank god for that. I'd hope that exposure to Islet would give a Pigeon Detective, or an Enemy, a non-fatal aneurysm that'd make it catatonically impossible for them to dull the world with their flavourless bum gruel any longer. Islet One completely transcendental moment that comes readily to mind, even today, five days and two hangovers after the event: Emma standing centre stage, singing down two different microphones: one lathered in a dubby delay, the other as clean as a new pair of white jeans. She switches between the two, on an ever undulating tapestry of noise, with a glorious smile on her face. It's as clear as the big, red, peeling nose on the end of my moonface, that the first people Islet want to amaze and confound is themselves. We're just fortunate to be invited along for the ride. So, they're not so much leftfield, as in a skylift high above the field. subject to hitherto uncharted jetstreams of sound and rhythm. And great as the début album is on many occasions, this is soooooo much better. Live, they justify any extra vowels thrown in their direction, trust me. A fresh breeze of possibility and excellence has blown through Central Station tonight. Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login. Need some assistance? Read about BBC iD, or get some help with registering.

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  8. Last weekend Charlotte Church joined Bethan Elfyn for an extensive interview. Following up her 2010 album, Back To Scratch, Church exclusively chatted to Bethan about her as-yet untitled new set, working with local musicians and her attitude to the music industry. In addition, three brand new tracks had their exclusive first plays. Listen to the interview here: Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login. Need some assistance? Read about BBC iD, or get some help with registering.

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  9. Artist and presenter Rolf Harris was awarded a prestigious Bafta Fellowship at last night's awards ceremony for his "outstanding and exceptional contribution to television". Harris, whose grandparents hailed from Merthyr Tydfil, told BBC News: "It's unbelievable for a start, it's very humblin...

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  10. For just over a century a 2.5 mile oval of tarmac, bricks and metal has provided one of the world's paramount sporting spectacles. Many a British driver has encountered speed, danger, death and riches at the Indianapolis 500, and 80 years ago a driver from north Wales met his end there. Or d...

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