Gig Of The Week (4)

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets Band – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wow, what a concert!

My brain is still scrambled. I set the control for the heart of the sun but at least I didn’t end up on the dark side of the moon. Our seats were up in the gods but our view was not obscured by clouds. The sound was superb.

The central conceit behind Mason’s band is to resurrect the early Floyd music, pre-Dark Side when it then all got a bit too pompous and up itself, such entertainment as there was coming from an extensive and over-blown light show. I much preferred their earlier stuff when the much-lamented Syd Barrett’s psychedelic musings and ramblings ruled the roost.

You can also see why Mason has a penchant for this era. By the time Floyd had become mega stars, the role of drummer in the band had been relegated to pretty much an also-ran. But the drums are much more of a feature of the early stuff, non more so than the urgent primal drumming of the central section of Saucerful of Secrets.

Accompanying Mason on his first tour since the 1994 Division Bell tour are long time Floyd bassist, Guy Pratt, Gary Kemp, a surprisingly accomplished guitarist, Lee Harris on guitar and Dom Beken on keyboards. All the favourites were played – Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, the wonderful Bike – as well as Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Saucerful and Set The Controls, representing the more experimental side of the band. I particularly enjoyed a rare outing for Fearless and the Vegetable Man.

Two thoughts. Rather like jazz, psychedelic music sounds so much better live than on record. I wonder why? And what is the definition of a tribute band? Does having a member of the original group mean that the rather pejorative term doesn’t apply?

Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that the evening was a wonderful homage to a period when Floyd were rightly lauded as one of the more inventive and experimental bands of the time. If you can get to see them – they have just announced extra dates – do so or else you will wish you were here.

Ban Of The Week

Being an Ironman triathlete requires you to eat an enormous amount of tucker to sustain your energy levels, so I’m told. German software engineer, Jaroslav Bobrowski, is an enthusiast and his dietary regime is to fast for 20 hours and then to eat until his full.

His regular sushi restaurant, the Running Sushi, in Landshut in Bavaria offers an all-you-can eat deal for the modest outlay of €15.90 and Jaroslav often visits to fill his metaphorical boots.

But on his latest, and last, visit, I read this week, he proceeded to demolish almost one hundred plates of sushi.

Feeling that he should reward the gaff for its generosity and as a token of appreciation, Jaroslav, on checking out, offered a tip. Imagine his surprise when not only was his offer rebuffed but he was discretely told never to show his face in the place again. The reason given – he’s eating too much.

I have some sympathy for him.

After all, an offer is an offer. The restaurant presumably feared it might have had to change its name to Running out of Sushi.

What Is The Origin Of (199)?…

Honky-tonk

I first came across the phrase as an impressionable youngster courtesy of the Rolling Stones and one of their best numbers, Honky-Tonk Women. Although the lyrics are not works of art, I deduced enough to realise that it described a house of ill-repute, a dive where women of easy virtue hung out.

That I was somewhat on the right track is confirmed by this rather informative, if somewhat illiterate, definition from the Kansan Iola Register of 23rd June 1893; “when a particularly vicious and low-grade theatre opens up in an Oklahoma town they call it a honky-tonk. The name didn’t just come from anything; it just growed (sic).” That rather calls time on our etymological searches, if true. But what is fascinating is that whilst the term may have required some introduction to the folks of Kansas, it was in use in Oklahoma and judging from the gloss, had been in common usage for some time.

This enables us to deduce two things.

The first attribution in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to sometime in 1924 is wrong and, secondly, the phrase probably has nothing to do with the piano makers, William Tonk and Brothers of Chicago and New York who introduced a make of joanna from 1889 which was known as the Ernest A Tonk. It was a very popular model, particularly on Tin Pan Alley, and made its way out west, but probably too late in the day to give its name to the type of hostelry and the mode of music that were associated with honky-tonk.

In the late 19th century the West was wild and many a bar was a mix of music hall, dance hall, casino, bar and knocking shop. The better sorts in a town were keen to see the back of them and the council of Fort Worth, in particular, waged a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to close down a couple that had sprung up on Main Street. However, there were many who valued the attractions that they offered and they were not going to give them up without a fight. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette reported on 24th January 1889 that “a petition to the council is being circulated for signatures, asking that the Honky Tonk theatre on Main Street be reopened.” This may well be the first recorded usage of the term in print.

In order to give honky tonks the veneer of respectability, some proprietors called the attractions they had to offer “variety shows.” The Morning News of Dallas noted on 6th August 1890 that “myself and he set and talked awhile and he got up and said he wanted to go to the honk-a-tonk (variety show).

But its attractions soon waned and by 1900 newspapers were reporting rather wistfully that “the once popular institution is dying off.” In its reminiscences the Evening Gazette of Reno, in what was a syndicated article, on 3rd February 1900 gave the flavour of an evening which began “about nine o’clock, and continues in full blast until one, or thereabouts, as long as its patrons will patronise the bar…always at least one drama is presented, the entire company, vocalists, dancers and all, participating.

The same article gave a fanciful origin for the name. A group were wandering in search of the source of some music they could hear. “From far out in the distance there finally came to their ears a “honk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a,” which they mistook for the bass viol. They turned toward the sound, to find alas! a flock of wild geese. So honkatonk was named.

We can almost certainly discount this etymological root but whence it came is anybody’s guess. Honky as a pejorative term for whites didn’t emerge (at least in print) until the 1960s and  Tonkin, the name given to the French colony of north Vietnam, is too far of a stretch to give its name to a type of bar in the Wild West of America.

The Iola Register was probably right.

Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Eight

One of the benefits of the ginaissance is that many outlets are getting in on the act of selling an increasingly widening range of my favourite spirit. Take the duty-free shop in Alicante airport. Eschewing a pair of castanets and a stuffed donkey that were the purchases of choice of British holidaymakers in days of yore, I headed to the spirits section and spent the last of my Euros on three gins that I had not tried before.

The first of these purchases was the intriguing G’Vine Floraisson – a bit of a mouthful in anybody’s language and probably the bastard offspring of some creative type in a marketing agency who thought the name perfectly blended the concept of gin and the vine. I’ll get back to you on that one.

The name aside, G’vine is from France, distilled in the Cognac region, and uses as its base a neutral grape spirit, made from Ugni Blanc grapes. In doing so the distillers tap into a tradition dating back to the 13th century when grapes were used in France and the Low Countries as the base for juniper spirits. It makes for a smoother base than the usual wheat based spirits.

The second differentiator in the drink is the use of the flowers from the vine as a botanical. The vine flowers for a few days in June before the grape berry forms and floraisson is the French word used to describe the flowering. The Floraisson gin uses flowers which have just formed whereas the other gin from the G’Vine stable, the Nouaison, uses more maturer blossoms. The flowers are hand-picked and macerated in the neutral grape spirit for a few days.

There are nine other botanicals used to create the gin – juniper, ginger root, liquorice, cassia bark, green cardamom, coriander, cubeb berries, nutmeg, and lime. Each botanical is macerated individually in separate liquor stills and then the floraisson infusion, the separate botanical mixes and the grape spirit are all blended together in a copper pot. Naturally, it has a name – Lily Fleur. The result is a clear spirit which weighs in at 40% ABV.

It seems a lot of trouble to go to and is a radical departure from the usual method of macerating all the botanicals in one mix. And, of course, the question is: is it all worth the effort?

While the spirit is crystal clear and smooth to the taste, the wine base gives it a sharpness that is not present with the more usual grain bases. It is certainly different but the astringent qualities of the base are not to my taste. To the nose it has a very floral aroma and the initial impression when one rolls the spirit in the mouth is of a very flowery concoction. I assume that this is the vine flower, which assumes a dominant position in the mix. It is only in the aftertaste that the, to me, more interesting flavours, principally juniper and ginger, come to the fore.

I didn’t find it unpalatable but I wouldn’t place it among my favourites, not least because it seems to have strayed some way from the tastes and sensations that one would associate with a gin. But there is clearly a place for a summery, floral-heavy gin and if that is your bag, it is worth a try.

The bottle is a dumpy with a light green coating towards the shoulder, a nod to the colouring of vineyards in the spring, apparently. The top is a hideously large, green screw cap. The lettering, on the other hand, is in a modern style and gives a rather stylish flourish to what otherwise would have been an unremarkable bottle.

Book Corner – September 2018 (4)

A Room with a View – E.M Forster

Forster’s A Room with a View is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it even more second time round than I did forty years ago. Published in 1908 it was his third novel. Set in Italy and England it can be read as a conventional love story – should Lucy Honeychurch follow her heart, if only she really knew what it was, or hitch herself to a boring, conventional chap? – but it is also a delightfully withering attack on the mores of Edwardian society.

This book can be seen as a coming of age story and one that highlights the transformation of women’s role in society. The forward behaviour of the lower class George Emerson in Florence – good God, the bounder only went to kiss her – throws her into confusion, a direct assault on her rather prudish, Victorian set of values. Almost on the rebound, she attaches herself to the conventional ie boring and controlling Cecil Vyse. As the second part of the book progresses, Lucy’s mind is in turmoil. Has she done the right thing? The efforts of her chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett, and Emerson’s father persuade her otherwise and a disastrous liaison is terminated.

Surely one of the key passages is this from Chapter 16; “This desire to govern a woman – it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together… But I do love you surely in a better way than he does.” He [George Emerson] thought. “Yes – really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in your arms.” It highlights the change in the way that men, at least some, were beginning to see women and is in stark contrast to the conventional Vysian approach. Reading it today many women may blanche at the rider but at the time it was a real step forward.

Not for nothing is the book called A Room with a View. On arriving in Florence and at the Pension Bertolini run by an eccentric cockney landlady, Lucy and Charlotte bemoan the fact that they have been allocated rooms without the promised view of the River Arno. To stop their “peevish wranglings” Emerson senior offers to swap rooms. This provokes a bout of debate about the propriety of accepting the offer – I would have withdrawn it straightaway – but the two females eventually accept and get their rooms with a view.

Perhaps the only passage where Cecil Vyse shows a scintilla of self-awareness also features a room, albeit a figurative one; “When I think of you it’s always as in a room. How funny!” To her surprise, he seemed annoyed. “A drawing-room, pray? With no view?” “Yes, with no view, I fancy. Why not?”  Just as a room without a view of the Arno was unacceptable to Lucy in Florence, so, we are meant to assume, a chap who is likened to a room without a view is not the right one for her.

The book has some glorious moments of comedy. Forster skewers the social mores of the middle classes and the ignorant British tourist abroad whose aesthetics are dictated by the pages of their Baedeker guides. Lucy buys a postcard of the Birth of Venus but thinks that the naked Venus rather spoils the picture.

And some of the minor characters are wonderful – the ostentatious novelist, Miss Lavish, the jettisoned copy of whose story of her time in Italy opens up a whole can of worms, the chaplain, Mr Eager who is rude to Italians and the Miss Alans, the progenitors of the current crop of grey-haired world travellers.

The dialogue is crisp and sharp, the descriptions are acute and the book progresses at pace. It is no wonder that this book is regarded as one of the finest in English literature.