Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Europe 2013 - Near Death In Scotland

Near Death In Scotland… Living In The Tub… Rolling Hills To Which There Seems No End…

The van is large and ungainly, hardly a pretty sight, a hulking mass on wheels which rolls and tumbles along tiny Scottish roadways, slapping wayward tree limbs with wide, gawky rear-vision mirrors. They call it Tub, and we live in it. It’s our home for a few days, days spent wandering and wondering, a life on the road as free as the hills we whip by that seem to roll on forever.

The road is, he says, one of the most picturesque in Europe, and so we take a left turn and it’s narrow, ‘passing areas’ dotted every few hundred metres, barely even a line on the map, but stretching off into the hills like it has no end, and we, being carefree, take it with no thought other than to reach the other side where we’ll make camp, taking it as it comes.

We bowl along at a cracking pace, occasionally pulling to the side to let another car pass, admiring the sweeping countryside, a picturesque road indeed until we happen upon a series of steeply angled (at least 80 degrees, I’d wager) hairpin turns which we look to navigate in second gear – folly, as it turns out, and so we roll backward, stalled, down an almost vertical turn, hearts beating out of chests, hoping against hope that no one is coming toward us along this treacherous mountain pass – picturesque be damned, I mutter to myself as I lose the clutch and struggle to find first gear amongst a cloud of smoke which I fear heralds the ultimate demise of The Tub, our faithful travelling companion.

Luckily, first gear, once found, is rock solid and so we eventually begin to climb, slowly, slowly, around one vertical turn, around another and another until we finally make it to the top, the engine temperature gauge steadily moving upward, quicker than we are, definitely – hearts still beating, we pull over and take stock. Near death, to be sure.

However, not ones to be too daunted by a mere brush with the Reaper, we continue on, finding the downward ride a lot easier, despite the smell of burning brakes – regardless, we roll into Kenmore on the banks of the River Tay, which feeds into a gargantuan Loch of the same name, and we find a large pub with seats on the grass in the sun and so a pint of the local’s finest is in order, a smoke and calmness is restored.
No campground here however, so we prevail upon the Tub once more, hit the side road and eight or so miles later, roll into Aberfeldy where we eschew the packed campground in favour of a small meadow right on the river, where we make camp and praise the good lord, or whoever, that we’re still here. A good start, methinks, and we drink and eat and eventually retire.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Record Review - Rasa Duende

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday July 26.

Rasa Duende
ABC Music / Universal

At first glance, you’d perhaps not think traditional Hindustani music and Flamenco had any business being in the same place, such are their vast physical and cultural distances from one another.

Rasa Duende will prove you wrong. A collaboration between renowned tabla player Bobby Singh, Sarod player Adrian McNeil and Flamenco guitarist Damien Wright, Improvisations is a stunning look at what can happen when two unlikely bedfellows mesh perfectly, thanks to some truly inspired playing.

A genuine melding of sounds and cultures, Improvisations, all instrumental, builds from Singh’s seemingly simple (yet metronomic) rhythms, and takes flight, the deep, weighty Sarod sound complimenting the fluttering Flamenco guitar work to a tee.

‘Ajnabi’ takes a sparse, darker road, McNeil seeming to just noodle away over a constant rhythm. Opener ‘Bhairenco’ begins slowly before building into a churning groove, utilising all players to their utmost potential. And the almost twelve minute long ‘Ektaal Por Bulerias’ picks up speed as it goes, McNeil and Wright almost battling for stringed supremacy by the end. A truly great release from this talented trio, hopefully just a beginning.

Samuel J. Fell

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Comment - Notes On A Dynasty

Given I'm currently OS, I only just found Game Three of the 2013 State Of Origin online. My brief thoughts on Where To Next for the Perpetual Losers.

Notes On A Dynasty… Viewed From Afar And After The Fact… Where To Next For The Perpetual Losers?

Something is rotten, south of the border. It’s not a lack of talent, of skill, of dedication. It’s nothing to do with brute force, or lack of. It’s nothing to do with power and precision, at least not as much as you’d think… it’s more that these southerners, shrouded in sky blue with the hopes and dreams of Australia’s fifth largest state weighing mightily on their shoulders, seem to have forgotten how to win.

Come full time, first-time Captain Robbie Farah stood in disbelief, hands on hips, eyes cast down. Surrounded by teammates doing the same. Disbelief that they’d come close, that they’d let it slip again, that for eight years now, their northern neighbours had basically erected a wall around this most prestigious and lauded patch, this game, this series, this way of life.

While Queensland celebrated jubilantly, their dynasty intact and, in fact, seemingly never stronger despite the aging of many of its stars, New South Wales stumbled back to a place they now habitually frequent, that of second place, of the Perpetual Loser. And this place, of course, isn’t real, but one of the team’s own making, a mental place where they loathe to tread, no doubt, but a place that they just know – there is, it seems, no other place they can go, and this is troubling to be sure.

Queensland, by comparison, know how to win. It was most evident in Game Two this year, where a loss would have ended the aforementioned dynasty, but backed by their rabid home crowd, they schooled the Blues, they basically broke down everything NSW thought they knew about football, and re-taught it to them in a display worthy of legend. This is a team who knows how to win, it’s as simple as that, and not just because they’ve achieved it more often in the past eight years, but because they believe they can, they know how to channel their passion (they know there’s a difference between dedication and passion), and they know how to get it done, even when their collective back is against the wall.

And so they won again this time, Game Three making it eight series’ in a row for a team many are calling the greatest team, of any sport, anywhere in the world. And they’re not far wrong.

Meanwhile, where there’s a winner, there’s a loser and that mantel has, of course, been worn, stoically for the most part, by the Blues. And so, they don’t know how to shake it. They get close most years, win a game, play a decider, but they just can’t seal the deal.

And so what can they do to remedy the situation? Something as mundane as changing a coach, switching players to different positions, changing game tactics will not work, it’s been proven not to work. Even recruiting the fastest, strongest, most skillful players in the league (as, of course, they try to do every year) won’t work – you can have the thirteen best rugby league players in the world on a single team, but if they can’t mesh together effectively, then they may as well be the thirteen worst.

No, what New South Wales need, in order to help them make the mental shift from that of Perpetual Loser to Winner, in order to make them realise that there is a place they can go other than the metaphorical second place cave they seem to have created for themselves, what they need to remind them how to win again, is passion. The same passion exuded by the Queensland team, their supporters… they need to bleed, cry, shit and piss blue. They need to be able, as a team, to unite, a rock solid unit, through which nothing can flow because they BELIEVE so heavily that they can WIN.

It’s what QLD have been doing for eight years, and it works. It’s simple and it’s effective. But you can’t fake it. And it won’t work straight away. It’s the changing of a culture within a team, and this is something that takes time and effort, pain and little gain until glory is unleashed and this current dynasty is felled. It is, again, as simple as that.

Until then however, Queensland reign supreme, a golden age in rugby league, without a shadow of a doubt.

Samuel J. Fell
(SJF is an ardent Queensland supporter)

Record Review - Ash Grunwald

Published in the July issue of Rolling Stone.

Ash Grunwald

Given Ash Grunwald’s brand of blues has, over the past 12 years, flirted so heavily with rock ‘n’ roll, it was only a matter of time before something like this came to be. With The Living End’s Scott Owen and Andy Strachan backing him up, Gargantua sees Grunwald adding a heavier, dirtier string to his bow, a step in another direction.

Of course, these songs are drawing directly from the blues, and so Gargantua does have a very familiar feel to it, which makes parts of it feel secondhand. However, tracks like the stoner rock ‘Black And Blue’, the straight rocking ‘Mojo’, and Gnarles Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, give it a sharp, and timely, twist. It’s nothing new really, but it’s a decent exploration of a heavier element to Grunwald’s staple fare.

Samuel J. Fell

Key Tracks: Crazy, Black And Blue, Breakout

Friday, 26 July 2013

Europe 2009 - Missive Home

I'm currently in Europe, Paris to be precise. I was here four years ago, a short trip spent wallowing in all that the likes of Amsterdam, Paris and parts of the UK have to offer. I spent a lot of that time writing, as I have been this trip, and recently came across what I'd penned then, a series of oddball missives to myself, to friends back home, to nothing and no one in particular.

Before I begin to post what I've written this time around, a trip down memory lane seems to be in order.

Notes back home…

Dudes… greetings once again, this time from outside a coffeeshop in the middle of Amsterdam where it’s quiet and relaxed, where even the most hectic fuckers are slow-walkin’ and steady talkin’, a place where time doesn’t even move because it just doesn’t have the inclination… which is fine with me.

So, Paris was cool… fast-paced and crazy, a good place to visit, but more than a week or so and you’d lose yr mind, leave it on a cafĂ© table with the dregs of beer and the red wine, never to be seen again.

Been here since Wednesday night.  Beer is cheap, 12 euro for a slab of Grolsch, 8 euro for a bag of Northern Lights, 3 euro for a kebab, 2 euro for a cup of black coffee – things are good.

Getting a fair bit of writing done – couple of thousand words on the journalism front, about the same in random European Ramblings, about 600 on the book – not as much as I’d have liked by this late stage in the game, but you can’t complain too hard, you are stoned in Amsterdam, after all. 

From here, this coming Wednesday, it’s over to the UK, a couple of nights in the middle of nowhere with an uncle and family, then four days in the even-more-middle-of-nowhere with the entire family, 22 of us, which should be an interesting experience, perhaps as far removed from where I am now as is physically possible.  Cool.

Thanks for the words back y’all, nice, will divert words yr way once more no doubt, but if not, back in Melbourne on the 5th of October for fun times, and hopefully a jam – my guitar fingers are itchy as hell.  Until then,