Monday, 24 February 2014

ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL VOICES OF OUR TIME

"I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music." 

Maya Angelou, 1999. 

I could not agree more. 

Pimp. 
Prostitute. 
                  ...upon those two words, judge not, but read her works. 

Cook. 
Mother. 
Night-club Dancer. 
Singer. 
Actress. 
Polyglot. 
Civil Rights Activist. 
Anti-apartheid Activist. 
Author. 
Poet.
Philosopher. 
Teacher. 

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” 

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. The recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.

She has also received nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. 

She served on two presidential committees. Awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and in 2011 President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

She has also received over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the World. 

Her son, Guy Johnson, says he is often asked what it's like to be raised by the woman hailed as one of the most influential voices of our time. Did Johnson, a writer and author himself, ever feel he was growing up in her shadow? 

"No, I didn't. I grew up in her light." he says. 

"Sometimes I wasn't worthy of it, but it has always been an experience that expanded me. She thinks that the divine hand is in all things. She has faith that's like a rock -- you can stand on it. She speaks to our humanity and she reminds us that we are both brother and sister to the rest of the human race." 

What a powerful, moving, inspiring and true statement. 

You can see the short clip here:


With one and a half minutes that, I trust, will stay with you always, I leave the final words to The Lady herself:



Thursday, 6 February 2014

TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE

First, a little history.

It was, given a decade or so, about three thousand years ago that the first Olympic Games took place; dedicated to the Olympian gods and staged on the ancient plains of Olympia.

By all accounts, Olympia was a place of unique natural and mystical beauty, a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices. So rather akin to Sochi by all accounts, though perhaps with cleaner water and bedding. The many elaborate buildings and sporting facilities were dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus, with the temple of Hera parallel to it.  

Although the Olympic Games were closely linked to Zeus, they were not an integral part of any religious observance. The Games were a direct outgrowth of the values and beliefs of Greek society, who idealized physical fitness and mental discipline, believing that excellence in those areas honoured Zeus, the greatest of all their gods. So The Games held a secular character, solely aimed at showing the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people, as well as encouraging good relations between cities.

They continued for some 12 centuries, until the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a Christian, decreed in 393 A.D. that all such "pagan cults" be banned.

The first Olympic Games since that time were held, once again, in Greece in 1859, though it was the Athens games of 1896 that were truly international and more as we know today.

Looking back once again to the origins, another notable aspect of the Greek culture, and indeed through much of the Ancient World, was that love between males was not only tolerated but actually encouraged, and expressed as the high ideal of same-sex camaraderie.

Such terms as 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' had no equivalent in these times, simply because it was assumed that a person would have both 'hetero'- and 'homo'- sexual responses at different times. Sexuality was fluid, and was certainly not a marker of one's worth or standing in society. Over subsequent centuries much has been written to negate this; with a knowledge it cannot be completely denied, many historians and the like have done their best (inevitably fed by their own beliefs) to pigeon-hole it into matters of status and the like.

It wasn't.

Furthermore, let it not be forgotten that for several hundreds of years during this time there were two deities vying for worship. Yes, two.

One was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth who died upon The Cross to save his people, and the other was the handsome young lover of the Emperor Hadrian who drowned in the Nile to save Egypt: The Christians eventually took power over The Pagans, so Jesus won and Antinous (who most people will not have heard of) lost. Incidentally, Antinous was the last Roman to be deified, a practice normally reserved for Emperors, and there were more statues of him made than of any figure throughout the whole of Roman History. He was worshipped throughout the vast Empire for several hundreds of years.


'The Olympian Ideal'

One of the most famous statues is the colossal 'Antinous as Dionysos-Osiris' in marble, which stands in the Museo Pio-Clementino, Sala Rotunda of the Vatican Museums.



This does not open a debate here about religion and faith, but it does clearly illustrate that which character who is most worshipped, be they myth alone or legend born from reality, has deep root as to who is in power as much as anything else.

So the Pagans were, generally speaking. much freer in their approach to sexuality. It goes without saying that same-sex relationships of the kind portrayed by this 'Greek love' ideal were increasingly disallowed within the Judaeo-Christian traditions of Western society, and eventually became highly taboo.

Two of the greatest names in history, both from the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, are good examples of not following such constraint. But there are many more besides.

So, to today.

None of us can be ignorant to what is happening over in Russia, the call for change, for retraction of laws, for boycotts. Russian law bans the promotion of 'non-traditional' sexuality, and yet it could be very strongly argued that the very sexuality they are against is the most 'traditional' of all, particularly in the long history of the Olympics.

What is disturbing to say the least is that even if Putin ordered a complete reversal of his government's stance on homosexuality tomorrow, the seeds have already been sown. People invariably seem to be inspired more by hatred than love, and the mentality of prejudice has now been so firmly set in stone that it will no doubt last for generations.

The Russian government only yesterday called on all warring parties around the world to observe the Olympic truce during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in a statement that mentions the "...building (of) a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal". A peaceful and better world... quoted... from a country whose government condones the abuse and torture of individuals simply because of their sexuality.

Perhaps rather odd to quote myself here, but I wrote this in another piece about the modern slave trade, and it is fitting to place here: "It is the right of every person to be born in freedom and live in liberty. It is the duty of every person to fight injustice and oppression."

In mind of that, let me set out 'The Olympian Ideal'.


It is a life philosophy, promoting three core values:

Excellence, Friendship and Respect.

All Olympic Ideals flow from these three core values.

The aspects of these Olympic Ideals are:

The balanced development of body, will and mind.

The joy found in effort.

The educational value of being a good role model.

The respect for universal ethics, including:

• Tolerance
• Generosity
• Unity
• Friendship
• Non-discrimination
• Respect for others


Developing a better and more peaceful world by the educating of young people through sport, free of discrimination and in the Olympic spirit.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A SHORT THOUGHT REGARDING SMELL

Having recently endured several sojourns into the depths of our beloved Capital's rush hour, after months of welcome respite from such horror, I have come to the conclusion that 'the stench of humanity' (which, in a brief sentence, can be best summed up as a disgustingly heady waft of excrement boiled in salted water) can only be remedied by a nosegay. Nosegays, a popular accessory that was a bouquet of flowers and fruits since the 15th C, have since fallen out of fashion somewhat; it is undoubtedly time for their return. So expect them to be sold outside your local tube station by young models of Jacob Hall and Nell Gwynn (the Chris Hemsworth and Angelina Jolie of the 17th C) soon. I believe they will bring ease to thousands, and quite possibly make me a pretty penny or more in the process. 

What is 'RICH'?

http://teremity.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/21-ways-rich-people-think-differently/


There are several things that get me thinking in regards to this article as linked above.

First, and perhaps foremost, what is 'rich'? Clearly, this article means rich as in monetary value, and whilst I, like most, would no doubt enjoy being free of any constraint or difficulty regarding the lack of mineral gold in one's back account, I find it a small focus to accept that solely as a valuation of where we stand in life. In family and friends (who are of course adopted family) I believe I am blessed to be rich beyond hope or imagination; and I'd happily challenge Ms.Gina Rinehart to see who is winning on that score.

Indeed, my present circumstances see me at the most financially low in years, yet the balance is tipped by feeling the happiest I have done in over a decade also, so again, being rich is a matter of opinion and feeling as much as, or even more so, than about what buck is in the pocket or the bank.

Again, would I relish in never having to worry about money, in travelling where I wish whenever I wish, in buying whatever I wanted and seeing that all those I loved were, to the best of my ability, in a similar stance? Yes. I'd be a liar to say otherwise.

But then, I don't, for one moment, see myself as 'average' either. Whatever an 'average' person is. I am unique and unrepeatable in being 'me'. As are we all. Supposing for one moment I am average however, the quote that "average people think money is the root of all evil" is wrong anyway - it is that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Nor is it that poor people think selfishness is a vice and rich people think selfishness is a virtue. Mother Teresa famously considered herself the most selfish of all because she gained so much from giving all that she could.

Nor do I subscribe to Steve Siebold's (author of “How Rich People Think”) belief that the road to riches is paved with formal education; I do entirely believe that it comes as - he so states that only rich people do - in acquiring specific knowledge. Should I ever become rich in monetary terms, it will be precisely because of my unique and unrepeatable accumulation of such specific knowledge.

And I do not believe my best days are behind me either. Life, for me, means I have only just begun, and it is because I am following my passion I believe this.


To take a basic overview of the World Population, and to thus divide it between two basic categories of either 'rich or 'average', governed entirely by a set mentality, is as simplistic and as naive an assumption of the human race as anyone could possibly make.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

EVEN THE CROWN IS OPEN TO A CLEVER CON

Much to the chagrin of many of my friends, I will admit to being something of a Royalist. Not completely I must add, though I'll get to that momentarily.

Yes, it is archaic, and when one really thinks about it, having an inherited Head of State is as completely ludicrous as it has always been since the times of Ancient Rome, given that their personality, morals et al are as unpredictable through birth as any such occurrence is.

However, I'm rather fond of our Queen. I can't deny that some of that credit would have to go to Helen Mirren, much like Meryl Streep gave a touch of genteel humanity to  Thatcher in the on-set of dementia, so one could argue that my warmth is inspired purely by fiction as much as fact.

But I also like her for being such a constant. In this ever-changing, seemingly ever-faster World, she is etched and stitched into the fabric of all our years alive. As a child, to me and my family The Queen was as much the 25th of December as Father Christmas himself was. My Grandmother 'knew' her, thus so my Mother , and so in some small way I do too. There is, I believe, something soothing in that continuity. For over half a century she has stood as a through-line connecting every Prime Minister from Churchill to this day, a rarity of which the relevance should not be dismissed.

It cannot be denied, whatever one's thoughts on the matter, that she has undertaken her duty as Monarch with diligent dignity, grace and an unwavering commitment that few could match or let alone surpass in a lesser role. And though she has undoubtedly lived a life of immense privilege, one far removed from that of the Common People, there are a countless many who have been personally touched by but a moment of her personal focus and attention.

So for me, I'm quite patriotic in my thought of 'God Save The Queen'.

On the flip-side, in the majority the rest of them I could happily do without. I'm somewhat charmed by William and Harry I suppose, much as I was beguiled by Diana, but then we live, more than ever, in an age that is beholden to 'The Cult of Celebrity'. And there is Anne, who is truly a toff but a hard-working one at best. But yes, the likes of Beatrice and Eugenie irk considerably, and when we come to one such as the Princess Michael of Kent I swing closer to being a gun-toting Revolutionary.

That particular rather loathsome jade is not, however, to be confused with the more elegant and most 'ordinary' Katharine, Duchess of Kent, who has in many ways forgone her 'Royal' status, including most secretly taking up the decade-long role of a Primary School music teacher in Kingston upon Hull known as plain Ms.Kent, along with her tireless charitable work with the likes of UNICEF and The Samaritans; I like Katherine Kent very much.

Is it ridiculous that our taxes pay for The Queen? I won't try to dispute that. But then the Queen herself favours a gradual shrinking of the Civil List as she tries to trim the cost of the Royal family to satisfy public opinion; and Charles too has long believed that the Royal Family has to be leaner and more cost effective, although his own spending of around £15million a year makes you wonder what he actually means by lean (the Queen is famously - and relatively - thrifty in comparison).

Besides, our taxes also pay for every M.P. to have two homes when most of us cannot afford one, our taxes have paid millions towards the comfort of a hate preacher, our taxes are misused far more frequently and fundamentally poorly than on dear old Elizabeth II, and that remains a discussion for another day entirely. Furthermore, whilst it isn't happening fast enough (such things rarely do) the current centuries old system of grants and Civil List funding is being replaced by an all-in-one payment called the Sovereign Support Grant, paid for entirely by the Crown Estate.

Yes. I'm vehemently against the aforementioned likes of toilet-lid-wearing Beatrice and Eugenie being kept on the Civil List and similar funding, or even having taxpayer-funded royalty protection officers, which apparently for the most part (upon revelation it was costing us £500,000 a year) has now ceased. So yes, things are gradually changing, with their no-doubt disgruntled playboy dad Andrew now having to pay their rent of £30,000 a year. But for a four-bedroom 'flat' in the area of St.James' Palace, I'd say that comes at a snip.

Their cousins William and Harry may be required to have protection, but then they also fulfil their military duties, whilst Peter and Zara Phillips, though unquestionably gifted by the silver spoon, have both built up impressive independent CVs and, significantly, neither of them have police protection, or carry a title.

But here, today, this is where I'm cross as I catch this evening's headline:

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s refurbishments cost taxpayer £1m

This is the cost of converting the late party girl Princess Margaret's 'Apartment 1A' at Kensington Palace ready for them and their new born sometime in the Autumn, after the renovation and redecoration is complete. Oh, so after £1m it still isn't finished yet? And the name 'Apartment 1A' is also a little misleading, seeing as it consists of 57 rooms. Admittedly, it has been stated that all the interior decorating costs are being paid for out of the Royal family’s private income. So what has the £1m gone on then? Roof tiles, re-wiring and asbestos clearance apparently.


Which makes me wonder, is the Royal Household that out of touch, because they're being taken for one hell of a scam with that bill. It smells like a dodgy contractor to me. Someone really needs to call Esther Rantzen, Gloria Hunniford or Angela Rippon on their behalf, because clearly, even The Crown is open to a clever con.

Friday, 5 April 2013

ELEVATIO PRO DUOBUS


I was asked to pen a review of Afternoon Tea for Paramount in London - here it is.

Tea…is a religion of the art of life.

- Okakura

In his long essay ‘The Book of Tea’ in 1906, Okakura Kakuzō wrote in detail about how the tea ceremony can be practised to foster and promote harmony, discipline the mind, quiet the heart, and attain the purity of enlightenment. Teasim he called it. Well, we are not in Japan, and Paramount’s latest offering may not achieve all of the above, but it most certainly makes joyous steps in that direction.
Before I begin, a little history. In spite of its origins in the Orient, there can be few things more pleasing, or considered more quintessentially English, than the pastime of drinking tea. It was first made fashionable in this country during the 17th Century by Catharine of Braganza, Queen and Consort to Charles II, who was actually Portuguese. By the 18th Century tea gardens had became popular throughout society, whereupon ladies and gentlemen would take their tea together outdoors (weather permitting) surrounded by entertainers and arranging all manner of assignations.
But ‘Afternoon Tea’ as we know it today is generally considered to have come into being in the mid 1840’s by the hand (or stomach perhaps) of one Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford; clearly a Dame of the Empire with an appetite.
With an early light lunch then nothing until dinner at 8.00pm (to this day still the most popular time requested by those dining out) the Duchess complained of a “sinking feeling” by late afternoon. And so she began the indulged small feast of tarts, cakes, scones, and of course, pots of tea. Understandably this seemed a simply splendid idea, the Duchess acclaimed for her forward-thinking, and so the custom swiftly caught on. Now in the 21st Century, whilst perhaps not a daily affair, it has nonetheless become the perfect genteel luxury to indulge in with delight, all cares and woes thrown to the wind.
At last then it has arrived here, at the very pinnacle of the capital, to be supped and savoured at leisure against the backdrop of that unparalleled panorama. To be enjoyed with or without a glass of champagne (for me such an occasion rightly deserves the salute of bubbles), Paramount presents this wonder in all its glory. We chinked our glasses and saluted the day.
Your chosen brew is conjured before you into clear pots (which only added to the delight of my companion’s selection as we watched the Flowering Osmanthus unfurl its sweet blossoms). Myself, I’ve always felt the comfort in the smokiness of Lapsang, as if I’m retiring in my study, and this was poured for us into the crystal cups (with no handle, in a twist on the traditional Chinese style, a modern vacuum design making it cool to the touch), with the advised note of not allowing it to steep for too long else the taste become overbearing with liquorice intensity.
Then to the bites, a feast most certainly! Beautifully laid out for our eyes to dance upon were all manner of treats, graciously laid so temptingly vibrant in contrast to the tiered tray of ebony slate. Open savouries such as generous Smoked Salmon & Fromage Blanc on Rye Pumpernickel, and Egg elevated with Mustard Mayonnaise upon Toasted Brioche, to name but two, no needing of playful fight over in their plenty, and punctuated with a quiche that practically melted upon command. I would have been quite sated here, but… okay, we were most satisfied certainly, but the sweeter half of what was ours would be the proof of those appetites truly sated.
A ballet of sweet and bitter chocolate, Crème de Violet Macarons, as fine no doubt as those made for Catherine de’Medici by her Italian pastry chefs in the 1530′s, tangs of fruit softened with silken soufflé… they seemed unending, yet just, JUST, allowed room for warm bite-size scones with the perfect jam and obligatory decadent cream.
We sat back, marvelling at what we had eaten and with the ever-changing skyscape that cannot be beaten our constant companion, wondering for a moment if perhaps the cranes over the Crossrail site would have to be called into action to send us on our way.
Paramount had done themselves, and the 7th Duchess of Bedford, most proud; to the point we both skipped dinner at 8.
So to paraphrase one T’ien Yiheng when he spoke of tea, climb to the peak, sup for a few hours and just “forget the din of the world.”

Friday, 15 March 2013

LET THE MUSIC SPEAK


For me, there can be little more inspiring than being asked to write something for someone, whatever that might be. A letter, a biog, review... anything (to me the conjuring of words is like a painter daubing canvas). It often serves as a self-educator too as one delves into the subject. I recently received the honour of doing so for that maestro of music Tom Glide, towards his latest (blindingly brilliant) release 'SWEET HEAVEN' featuring the great Timmy Thomas. It was a joy and a privilege to undertake (always good when the request is well-received), and here it is.

TOM GLIDE - 'SWEET HEAVEN'.

An accomplished producer, composer, musician and singer in his own right (he’d taught himself to play guitar, drums, bass and keyboards by the age of 10), Tom Glide has become a name synonymous with the masterful musicianship of uplifting groove, and his new release, featuring vocals from the legendary Timmy Thomas, is set to further seal his stance as a maestro at the top of his game.

This latest release follows on from the highly acclaimed ‘In the Name of Luv: Tom Glide and the Luv All Stars’, his sublime 11-track smash collection of funk and soul infused tunes that, with soaring horns and accomplished vocals et al so beautifully bridges the old school with the new. Featuring some of the best artists in their field, whose collective credits, aside from their own, range from Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and George Duke to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few, this album, the culmination of a long-held dream, holds up the vision of, in Tom’s own words “music that erases the distance between the past and the present, and looks ahead to the future; a universal celebration of togetherness, brotherhood and love”.

The ‘All Stars’ saw collaboration with luminaries including keyboardist Larry Dunn, bassist Alex Al, drummer James Gadson and the acclaimed trumpeter Rahmlee Michael Davis (Jackie Wilson, Michael Jackson, B.B. King, Donny Hathaway, Minnie Riperton… the list of that particular pedigree goes on). The latter, Tom says, was “…one of the most beautiful musical experiences of my musician's life. I learned a lot about music, human relationships and humility. His unique art to construct voicing as foundations inside my songs or how to distribute notes like characters in the cinema, or measuring ingredients as in fine cooking, and gastronomy - to have the perfect taste or colour.  Learning this art has been like a revelation for me.” 

It is a revelation that abounds in telling, shown not only in how Tom brings so many top talents of all ages together, but on with the tunes they create, ones that stand solid as new classics. So with this latest release Tom is set to continue in furthering his vision of bringing real musicianship into the lounge, the bedroom and upon a truly uplifting dance-floor to the fore.

With some four decades in the music business Timmy Thomas has given us golden gems like ‘Why Can't We Live Together’ (1972), with its memorable stripped-down production of Hammond organ and percussion to his soulful vocal, along with classics under the T.K.Disco label such as ‘Stone To The Bone’ and much more besides, seeing him consistently topping the R&B charts. Here now then, under the umbrella of Tom’s ‘All Stars’, another hit is assured. With remixes from the likes of the equally prolific talents of UK producers Matt Early and 12 Shades, along with some stunning keyboards by JD 73, this March release of ‘Sweet Heaven’, is another vibrant step in the on-going march of Tom Glide and company, here with Markus Kater and Stephen Tucker in Miami (the two guys who made the connection with Timmy Thomas happen) and supervised in studio by the acclaimed American bassist, songwriter and producer George “Chocolate” Perry.

The train shows no sign of stopping either, as this will lead on to yet another release in May, before the planned launch of a second album towards the end of the year.

And after his hugely successful 2012 UK tour ‘Soul On The Road’ together with Cool Million, Gary Poole and Westcoast Soulstars, along with vocalists like Laura Jackson and Tim Owens, as well as being on the road in Germany, France, Japan and the US West Coast, Tom is also getting focused on a second tour in the UK: “I’m hoping to bring a full horns section on stage, to make the full circus happen.”

As Berthold Auerbach once put it: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”  Tom and his unrivalled collective don’t just wash the dust away, they buff the soul to the highest gleam. In his own words: “We pray we’ve created music to uplift people; to bring people closer together.”  One listen and that becomes undeniably true.

Giles Addison – March 2013