Nationally Loud

Blurry Belfast at night

Bleary eyed, our head full of tunes, we’ve emerged this side of the weekend. The National rocked out, as we knew they would. I could hardly believe it as they played track after track from my ‘It’d be great if they did…’ list: new hits, olden goodies, and even this deep-voiced classic for the GoT fans (well, when you’re only a few miles from where it was filmed, it’d be rude not to, right?)

The National playing live at Belfast Odyssey Arena Nov 2013

Devendorf the drummer had effortless, loose, mad skills; the Dessner brothers performed in full guitar-flinging style. Matt Berninger carried the stage the whole time, decorously sipping on his red wine, before throwing it high in the sky in true stroppy rockstar fashion. The crowd was a similar pleasing mix of very polite bearded gents, who still got way too overexcited in the crush of the singer jumping off the stage. All good drama for a Saturday night out..

The National live on stage at Belfast Odyssey Arena Nov 2013

We filled the rest of our weekend in Belfast with lots of other delightful things, but that’s a post for another day. For now, sit back and enjoy a tune.

Play It Again

Piano and sheet music photo collage

It’s hard to return to something that you used to be good at, and find that now it’s actually quite difficult! With memories of whizzing through my scales with ease as a teenager, I feel like I don’t recognise my own hands now, as they stumble and stick over every key. Tom gave me a piano for my 30th birthday last summer (I know!) and I’ve revelled in returning to something I’ve barely touched in ten years. When I sit at that stool, I think of nothing other than the notes I’m playing, and I’m rarely that focused!

I love to play, and my relatively good sight-reading skills make me a lazy player. But now that I have a piano in my home, it seems a waste to do little more than pick over easy tunes. Inspired by this book, I have decided to actually learn a piece properly: to do more than simply stumble through it, mumble something about difficult key signatures, and flick to another page. So, I am going to learn this piece; not to Lang Lang standards, but just enough to get through it smoothly. And if I tell you guys about it then I figure I’ll have even more reason to actually stick with it. Wish me luck!


Dimbola Lodge

Once I hit Friday afternoon, sat on the couch after work with a cup of tea, I’m pretty disinclined towards anything very busy. Saturdays are best for pubs and parties, after a day with no alarm clock, a lazy brunch, and plenty of fresh air. Fridays are made for a quiet pint and a bit of peace, after a week of early starts, rushed mornings and too much time in front of a computer.

So, last night’s Shhh club was ideal Friday night fare. My favourite Freshwater spot, Dimbola Lodge, transformed it’s cafe in to a cosy bar, complete with candles, cushions, and Campo Viejo. Friendly faces and free run of the house’s exhibitions in the interval made this the perfect setting for an evening of quiet instruments and beautiful voices.

Angelina Grimshaw‘s resonant voice and accompanying mandolin filled the place with visions of almond blossom and passing trains, while Puzzle Muteson‘s mournful voice and perfect finger picking richly deserved the appreciative hush of this quiet audience. Truthfully, it was the promise of Mary Hampton that got me off the couch that afternoon. Her songs are a beautiful mix of 14th century poems, previously unheard gospel songs and lines of Emily Dickinson. Her guitar playing is always wonderful to listen to, but her a capella offerings were heaven in this still small space. I can think of no better way to end a busy week than with a bit of hush.

A little piece of June

Single rose in a cup

reading Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke. Lost in a world of ships, opium and rare plants in nineteenth century China.

listening to James Yorkston (and excited to see him again at tomorrow’s gig)

buying too many books. Must stop book browsing and start reading. New Oxfam bookstore opening in town does not help!

loving holiday planning! Off to the Lake District for the first time. Guide book gives the Eskdale Valley full marks for hiking, scenery and beer. Count me in, whatever the weather..

End of the Road

We’re still reeling from a great weekend at this year’s End of the Road festival.  Breaking with a five year tradition,  we abandoned Green Man festival in favour of one closer to home (and more likely to be sunny).  We weren’t disappointed; a full weekend of sun, food, books, comedy and music.

The woodland library was the venue of choice for our mornings, host to readings by the lovely James Yorkston from his new book, as well as Laura Barton regaling us with tales of American road trips.

With flying books, tiny people and a forest of lights and origami cranes, this was without doubt the most magical library I’ve ever visited.

At the far end of the festival was the beautifully situated Comedy Stage. Although not extensive, the atmosphere was great, with stand-out performances from two members of Pappy’s and the righteously angry Robin Ince (“But it’s difficult to get angry when so much photosynthesis is going on all around you.”)

It is always hard to choose where to eat at a festival, with so many delicious choices.  We overcame this difficulty by eating as much as we possibly could.  Cafe Dish, set in the middle of the gardens, amongst peacocks and macaws, was the breakfast spot of choice.  Their freshly-made croissants were worth the wait and calories.  Hmmmm, butter..

And, of course, we had our fill of beautiful music; some familiar loves like Joanna Newsom and James Yorkston, and plenty of new discoveries like Josh T. Pearson and Sam Amidon.  The Paper Cinema put on an incredible live performance, completely changing my mind about puppetry; go see them if you can!

End of the Road is our new favourite way to end the summer.  We will be back!