Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Birds on 45 (Pt 6): the 33' Special

Things have been a bit serious on here of late and since this post has been gathering dust on the bedroom floor for a while, I think it's about time I gave it a's another pointless tribute to birds in vinyl cover art:

Birds on 45 - the 33' 'special':

'Four Cornered Night' by Jets to Brazil (Jade Tree Records, 2000)

There was a time when Jade Tree Records ruled the world. It was one of those labels you trusted cos there were rarely surprises; every song was about that girl you kind of liked but were too useless to do anything about, and the illusion of comfort that provided was...comforting. Mostly it was just fun pop-punk with a bit of 'post-hardcore' or whatever you want to call it thrown in and dressed up smart, which is great when your teens are crashing around you and you have no idea what you're doing in a small midlands town. Most of those records faded from my memory pretty quickly but this one hangs on - in no small part to its beautiful cover art.

It looks great doesn't it? I was chuffed to find a copy the year before last because I'd forgotten how good it was. I'm sorry to say I can't find the artist to credit but I've always thought it pictures a (Lesser) Yellowlegs, although I could be wrong. It also happens to be a really good album. After years of punching out classics in Jawbreaker (I knew I'd get them in this blog eventually), Blake takes it easier here and his voice sounds good.

Now quite literally 'jetting' to Brazil, feast your eyes on this wondrous behemoth of birding vinyl cover art lunacy, uncovered by my friend Lisa in New York  last year:

'Ney Matogrosso' s/t (Ariola Discos, Brazil, 1981)

Step up and take a bow Ney Matogrosso

I would've loved to have been present in the boardroom of Ariola Discos when he discussed his modest plans for the sleeve of the record: "well I thought I'd keep it simple y'know - just my head suspended over an illuminated city scape and a Harpy Eagle emerging phoenix-like from my forehead while spotlights spell out my name in the night sky above". 

A HARPY EAGLE. I love this guy. I would dearly love to see a Harpy Eagle too - the huge monkey and sloth-eating raptor of South American rainforests, it's right up there on my bucket list. 

And, I wager, the tunes contained herein are actually not all bad either - if soulful, upbeat Brazilian pop music is your bag. He has an obviously striking voice and lends it here to a number of songs veering from smooth teen balladeering to jaunty gypsy-type folk and one or two that sound like theme songs from a 70s Brazilian TV sitcom (if such things existed). The easygoing vibe is reflected in the pastoral imagery of song titles such as 'Viajante' (Traveller), 'Mata Virgem' (Virgin Forest) and my favourite 'Folia no Matagal', which apparently translates literally as 'revelry in scrub'. YouTube it, he's quite a showman.

Fresh from unearthing that gem, Lisa also came back with this soundtrack LP of birdsong from North America. It might be cheating to include it here I suppose, but it still ticks all the boxes. Cover-wise, a gull is the star; I know little about gulls across the pond so I perhaps won't hazard an ID guess here but feel free to comment below if you're desperate.

'Solitudes' Vol 4 by Dan Gibson (Dan Gibson Productions Ltd, 1981) 

While essentially an album of recorded 'birdsong', the sub-title 'Environmental sound experiences' sums this up best. Rather than being a series of track-to-track excerpts, here the pioneering sound-recordist and producer Dan Gibson lets nature unfold in real time, with minimal editing to spoil the experience as he paddles around the streams, lakes and falls of Niagara. Check out this sleeve photo of him with his 'specially designed stereo parabolic microphone' in his canoe:

What a cool guy. 

Among the species featuring here are Ring-billed gull, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Thrasher, Northern Oriole, Song Sparrow, even American toads. All the hits. I like the poetic tone of the sleeve notes too - 'Soon we are right alongside the staggering cataract' he writes as he passes the storm of water at the base of the falls, before opting for more seductive fare:

'Meditation is a method of relaxation that doesn't come easily to everybody. We need help, a stimulus of some sort, a trigger...Side B might do it.'

Godspeed! You Black Emperor eat yr heart out.

Liner notes: thanks to Lisa A

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Click, Protest, Relax

In  a recent post I mentioned the sense of unease I often feel about on-line campaigning - how petitions and other such devices seem like an easy way out of dealing with a situation. In an age of social media, the forms of armchair protest it offers are perhaps all too readily accepted or hard to ignore. In an age too, where our disconnect from nature as a whole is seemingly more pronounced than ever before, I can't help but think protest should be personal, and we're losing it.

This isn't to say social media has no place; little or nothing surpasses twitter for getting a message spread quickly or bringing an issue to the attention of millions. Petitions even, have a place. But ultimately, these shouldn't be the limits to our imaginations.

Kelly sent me this link to a TV ad by Unicef that aired in Sweden recently, it makes a similar point:

'Put your money where your mouth is' - whichever way you look at it, it addresses a very relevant, modern issue.

Perhaps some conservation organisations, for example, need to look at their approach, there are some whose campaigns and engagement techniques I feel lack real heart (this doesn't apply to the RSPB) and follow-up. Perhaps, beneath it all, this is really symptomatic of a fear of change? I don't know. These are just thoughts.

Time will tell what the Balcombe fracking protesters achieve, but their colourful stance in the face of much patronising media slop has been great to see.

Our over-reliance on social media is an obvious point to make - but it's one that I thought was worth sharing.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Oaken Wood

A couple of weeks ago I read about the plight of Oaken Wood, an ancient woodland in my home county of Kent. I'm sad to say I've never visited it and even sadder to say I won't ever have a chance to now. The site had been fighting a planning application for expansion from a neighbouring quarry for some time; as quickly as I heard about it, news went out that the application was approved and with that, 32ha of precious woodland habitat supporting species such as Nightingale, Hazel dormouse, common lizard and at least six species of bat was lost forever.

I was reminded of it at work today and in particular the implausibly twattish comments from Eric Pickles - secretary of state at the Department of Communities and Local Government. I thought I'd post them here for posterity, just in case I ever feel low on inspiration:

"The very considerable need for both crushed rock aggregates and dimension stone, together with the eventual biodiversity improvements, and the ongoing socioeconomic benefits, would clearly outweigh the loss of the ancient woodland and the other adverse effects of the development in this case."

It's quite remarkable how totally misinformed a single sentence could be. I don't even need to pick it apart, it's 'clearly' there for all to see. I would suggest though that someone has a quiet word in his ear to explain what the term 'ancient woodland' means.

The Woodland Trust posted this response; I feel very much like Catherine does at the bottom too -
"I have a great sense of loss. Our heritage is being stolen and destroyed in broad daylight."

Is this a test case for the new National Planning Policy Framework though, as the media suggest? I'm not sure - given the outcome, that would seem to encourage a fairly defeatist way of thinking. The chronic short-term approach promoted by this government may have caught on with local councils but I don't want to believe it's all over yet.

What used to be called an ancient woodland. Hermitage Quarry nr Maidstone, Kent
(Photo credit: Woodland Trust)

PS Thanks DG