Monday, February 28, 2011


So, no big surprises. The King's Speech Best Film with Colin Firth Best Actor, Natalie Portman Best Actress in Black Swan, Toy Story 3 Best Animated Film, The Fighter did well on Supporting Actors and Aaron Sorkin rightly got Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network. Amazingly, I've seen all of these apart from The Fighter. Great to see The King's Speech get the big one. Liz & I watched it a couple of weeks ago. Just found out that the opening shots of the speech delivered at 'Wembley' were in fact Elland Road, home of Leeds United and that the terraces were filled with inflatable dummies dressed in period costume. Cheaper than CG?! Interesting that we have another film examining the imperfections of the British monarchy, after The Madness of King George and The Queen...

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Our first Beijing Hotpot (huo guo) with friends in a great, busy restaurant called Hei Di Lao. A hotpot is social eating: big table, a (usually sunken) pot in the middle full of simmering stock, and then you throw in various meats, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, lotus, tofu etc, take them out after just a few minutes and then dip them in choice of sauces - sesame being a staple. Add lashings of beer and you're away. Our pot was divided into two - spicy and regular - and we all donned aprons as it can get a bit messy. When we lived in Japan, we had this several times only it's called shabu shabu there.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

S is for...

Literally hundreds of Ss. In which case, for the first time since A, B & C, we have to expand to 20...

- Ryuichi Sakamoto
- David Sylvian
- Conrad Schnitzler
- Klaus Schulze
- Gunter Schickert
- Paul Schutze
- Jane Siberry
- Saint Etienne
- Speedy J
- Tim Story
- Sex Pistols
- Siouxsie & the Banshees
- Simple Minds
- The Smiths
- Shriekback
- Suicide
- Soft Verdict
- Sparks
- Stereolab
- Slopshop

Sylvian & Sakamoto went from rubbish & classical (respectively) to accessible to difficult, and in the process released several sublime pop songs: Taking Islands in Africa (as Japan), Bamboo Music, Forbidden Colours, Heartbeat, World Citizen... A big part of me wishes Sylvian would go back to what he does best: Brilliant Trees ('84) and Gone to Earth ('85) are still for me his best albums. Sakamoto continues to churn out good stuff, be they soundtracks, laptop collaborations or piano albums, not to mentions reunions with Hosono & Takahashi.

I first heard Conrad Schnitzler on John Peel in the late '70s when Con came out, which was a revelation. He was the first musician I ever interviewed, in Berlin in Jan '80. The following morning I interviewed a pyjama'd Gunter Schickert, whose Uberfallig is essential. I've always been a bit ambivalent about Klaus Schulze, but there are a few classics in his enormously long ouevre: Irlicht, Mirage and X probably being the pick of them for me. Paul Schutze has mixed experimental ambient electronica with semi-improvised combo jazz, and as Uzect Plaush even had stuff released on a dance label.

Jane Siberry, for me, is one of the most interesting voices around, ever since her delightful eponymous debut in 1981. She's 'quirky' personified; a few years ago she sold almost all her possessions , including her home, and even changed her name to Issa, but is back to being good ol' Sib now. She figures in one of the best and worst concerts I ever saw, both in London: Union Chapel (sublime), and QEH (stiff). The last time I saw her - in Tokyo with Morgan Fisher - I actually managed to meet her, but it was one of those embarrassing moments when I just didn't know what to say other than "I really like your music", so I stood there like a lemon while she signed my Jane Siberry sheep.

Tim Story's tense, fragile keyboard vignettes continue to please, 30 years after his debut, and in his spare time he's helped keep Roedelius and Cluster in studio time. Jan Peter Schwalm's Slopshop weren't around for long but long enough for Eno to collaborate, and to release two excellent albums. Soft Verdict were an ensemble assembled by Belgian composer Wim Mertens with a handful of fabulous LPs, EPs and 12"s in the early 80s. Speedy J (aka Dutchman Jochem Paap) produced some of the best early-mid-90s electronica around.
I'd have to include the uplifting pop of Saint Etienne; the Krautrock meets French songs of early Stereolab before they got hugely repetitive; Simple Minds up to and including New Gold Dream; The Smiths for Morrissey's eloquent turn-of-phrase, though generally speaking I find them somewhat overrated; Sparks at the very least for Kimono My House, one of the most perfect pop LPs of the 70s - and they're still going; and Shriekback for some great alternative pop (also still going).
Which leaves the Sex Pistols (brilliant, as both band and phenomenon), Siouxsie & the Banshees (who, along with Wire, were probably the best exponents of where to take punk after punk burnt itself out) and Suicide (whose debut 1977 album is a classic).
The rest...
There are so many others, it's difficult to know where to start... How about some more electronica: Scanner, Seefeel, Schneider TM, Ulrich Schnauss, from Japan - Soemon, Takayuki Shiraishi and Speedometer. (with that all-important full point), Sabres of Paradise, SND, Solar Quest, Sons of Silence, SETI, Spring Heel Jack, Squarepusher, System 7, Sun Electric, Carl Stone, Smith & Mighty, Spacetime Continuum, Si-(Cut),db, Sandoz, Sweet Exorcist, Jake Slazenger, and The Shamen (if only for Omega Amigo).
Older electronic stuff would have to include Michael Stearns, Laurie Spiegel, Startled Insects, Seattle's finest Savant (one great album Imposed Order, one great single Stationary Dance), Severed Heads (great mid-80s releases), Antonio Sangiuliano who made just the one fantastic album (Take Off); Frenchman Bernard Szajner who designed the laser harp for Jean-Michel Jarre but also released stuff under his own name, Zed and The Prophets; Strafe Fur Rebellion (their Vogel was the first CD I ever bought), Stock Hausen & Walkman, Silicon Teens...

And at random: Stars of the Lid, Sufjan Stevens, Sonic Youth, The Soft Boys, Spiritualised, Malka Spiegel, Talvin Singh, Howard Skempton, Phelan Sheppard, David Sheppard, Geoff Smith, A Small Good Thing, Steeleye Span, Sneaker Piimps, Screaming Trees, Compay Segundo, Desmond Simmons, Skyphone, Adrian Sherwood, Mark Springer, Nitin Sawhney (particularly live), Shelleyan Orphan, Pete Shelley, John Surman and Can's Irmin Schmidt - and Bruno Spoeri while we're about it.

More 'out there' from back then: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sun Ra, Silver Apples, Soft Machine, Vivian Stanshall, Yochk'o Seffer, Slapp Happy, Shock Headed Peters, The Sugarcubes, Janek Schaeffer, Section 25, Mark E Stewart, Salaryman, Slowdive... and the doomy Swans, Skin, SPK, Skinny Puppy, Spacemen 3 and one or two tracks by the Sisters of Mercy.

More from Japan: Silent Poets, Sha' Cho Mouse, SAB (one great album only, Crystalization from 1978), saxophonist and one-time Brixtonian Yasuaki Shimizu, Shonen Knife, Soft Ballet. Then there's half-Japanese Skist and Sandii & the Sunsets (Sandra O'Neale was actually from Hawaii). Oh, and Shinjuku Thief, except they were Australian.

Aside from the Sex Pistols, some more punk, new wave and ska: The Stooges, The Stranglers, Sham 69, Stiff Little Fingers, Subway Sect, The Saints, Swell Maps, The Skids, The Slits, The Specials and Selecter. Some rock? Not a big fan of Bruce Springsteen I'm afraid, nor even Steely Dan, but I don't mind a bit of Santana once in a while. Were The Stone Roses pop or rock? Whatever, the first album is essential.

And from the world of pop: Scritti Politti, Squeeze, Soft Cell (of course), a brief fling with The Style Council, bits of S'Express, Swans Way, The Sundays, and one-hit-wonders Spiller (Groovejet - If This Ain't Love was sooo catchy); and in very small doses Suede, Sting, Seal, Spandau Ballet, Sade, Soul II Soul. And we could go back further to the glam of Sweet (but not Status Quo), Rod Stewart (for a couple of early singles), The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Sly & the Family Stone, The Staple Singers, Dusty Springfield, Simon & Garfunkel, The Supremes, Phil Spector, Nina Simone, hell, even Frank Sinatra.
And if we're going back that far, then why not Stravinsky, Satie, Pierre Schaeffer, Ravi Shankar and Raymond Scott. And Yma Sumac who died a couple of years ago.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Atrocity Exhibition

Finally got around to watching The Atrocity Exhibition, directed by Jonathan Weiss. Much as Cronenburg attempted to put Burroughs' The Naked Lunch on screen, here we have the almost unfilmable interpretation of J G Ballard's 1970 collection of short stories. It was shot over a decade between 1990-2000 which you'd think would pose big problems in the discontinuity department, but it somehow hangs together. And what is it about?! Er, a psychiatrist losing his marbles, obsessed with making sense of the assassination of JFK, the suicide of Marilyn Monroe, the space race, the Vietnam War, atomic tests, car crashes, plastic surgery etc. It never got a general release but made it onto DVD and does the rounds of film festivals. I like Ballard and this is an interesting attempt at visualising his writing, but ultimately it was just too obscure and repetitive. Oh and the music is by Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Paper Republic

After one of the toughest days in the office that I can remember (fire-fighting, too many meetings and just the sheer volume of work coming from all angles), it was a delight to sit back in a comfy armchair at One Way Street, a bookstore-cum-cafe, and listen to a dialogue between two Chinese writers, Li Er and Qiu Huadong, the Brit editors mentioned earlier, and our two great American helper-translators, Eric & Canaan, from Paper Republic. That's a hell of a long sentence so I'll never make it as a writer. Paper Republic is a great place to go for Chinese literature in translation, 'run' by a group of about a dozen literary translators. I think I'm going to be seeing a lot of them over the next year or so.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Editors

Not the band, but a posse of UK literary editors here to meet Chinese writers, translators & publishers. Today is the first event in a year-long programme which will culminate in the London Book Fair in 2012 where China will be Market Focus. The main aim is to encourage more Chinese new writing to be translated and published in UK but also to maintain the flow of Brit writing published in China. Very encouraging start with a packed-out forum in the chilly but atmospheric former residence of Soong Chingling, Sun Yat Sen's wife (1915-25). A minor but interesting detail: at coffee break chips were served. The posse travels on to Nanjing and Shanghai.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cina Chung Kuo

Finally got around to watching Antonioni's film about China, shot in 1972, the height of the Cultural Revolution, at the invitation of the Chinese government. It's a very slow, very long (three & a half hours) documentary in three parts, filmed in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Henan. The camera roams around capturing children in school, farmers in fields, an operation in a hospital, markets, workers, people cooking etc. There's nothing particularly controversial in it; it's quite borng actually, in an arty Italian way. In any case, Mao didn't like it and it was not shown in China until 2004, and little seen elsewhere. To be fair, I didn't get much of the narrative as the audio was in Italian and the subtitles in Chinese. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it was that it got made at all. Oh, and that Luciano Berio was 'music consultant' for a largely silent film.

Much better was the 12-part Heart of the Dragon series on Channel 4, made in 1984 when China was beginning to open up. I remember watching that at the time and being very impressed by the detailed analysis of ordinary people's lives, the thematic approach (Trading, Marrying, Working, Caring etc), the photography and the level of access they must have fought tooth & nail for. To the best of my knowledge I don't think it was ever repeated nor made available on DVD.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bamboo Goalposts

Just finished a book about football in China rejoicing under the above somewhat corny title. It’s by a Brit called Rowan Simons who’s lived in Beijing for 20 years, first as a Chinese language student, then a TV pundit and now chairman of a 'company' called Club Football ( He has been doggedly trying to champion amateur footie in a country which plainly likes football but hasn’t learned to love it. And by that I mean a country which doesn’t really embrace the sport at grassroots level.

At FIFA’s last ‘Big Count’ there were more regular players of football in England (never mind UK) than China, a country with 25 times more people. There are more golf courses than football pitches in Beijing. In 1999 Simons built his own football pitch – there were only 30 in the whole of Beijing – and arranged a league around it, until the rents went up and he had to abandon it. I’ve yet to meet him, but he’s still championing community footie in Beijing and across the country. Meanwhile China is currently ranked 75th in the world, two below Cape Verde Islands. PS. Deng Xiaoping was a biog footie fan: apparently, when he was a student in France in the 1920s, he sold his jacket in order to see a game.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Concrete & stone

Fascinating day experiencing crumbling concrete and stone... Spent the morning wandering the favellas of Chongqing which was fascinating. A lot has been razed but some neighourhoods remain. I wouldn't want to live there, for sure, but they had a history, a character and a community spirit which is maybe lacking in the uniform developments of the last 20 years.

Then took at car to the Dazu stone carvings 150kms west of Chongqing. There are several sites but the main one is at Mt Baoding where a Buddhist monk, Zhao Zhifeng, oversaw the rock carvings of hundreds of religious figures in the 12th century. They're a strange mix of Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist subject matter. It's now a UNESCO world heritage site. Interesting lunch beforehand: instead of a menu, I was taken to the kitchen and asked to point at which vegetables I'd like with my rice. When I asked if they had any chicken the chef pointed at a live one pecking dirt the dirt just outside the back door which he would happily kill for me. I stuck to veg.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shoreditch, China

Having experienced big cultural edifices yesterday, it was smaller independent outfits today, mainly out in the suburb of Huang Jiaoping, where the Sichuan Fine Art Institute, Tank Factory, 501 and Organhaus are. What a great area: a bit like the early days of 798 or Shoreditch. Cheap, chilly, high-ceilinged studios in old warehouses with grim (but strangely inspiring) views of smoke-belching factories. Good community spirit, lots of international exchange programmes and – almost a bonus – some very good art, created by SFAI teachers & undergrad students or postgrads who’ve stayed on and manage to make a living out of it. Local government seem happy to leave it as it is and not increase rents. They even encouraged students to paint super-colourful murals on the otherwise drab & decaying apartment blocks that line the main street. An uplifting afternoon, but after four hours of artists’ studios and a week of art art art, I have a sudden desire to watch football on TV, so back at the hotel I do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gotham City

What a place... In the cold light of day, Chongqing actually looks more like Gotham City, or a poor man’s Hong Kong. The city centre sits on a rocky peninsula where the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers meet but in the last two or three decades it has sprawled for miles and miles in all directions, swallowing up nearby cities and creating one of the world’s biggest conurbations. A grey haze hangs over it for much of the year, insufferably hot in the summer, damp and dispiriting in the winter. Skyscrapers thrust up from every conceivable inch of land, like concrete fungus. They range from the predominantly bland & poorly-built to the occasional naff & flash which would include the new Sheraton, surely the ugliest in its fleet.

Nevertheless, a productive day meeting cultural bureaucrats (like myself), concert hall managers, museum directors… and artists at a nice, informal dinner on the south bank of the Yangtze while fireworks peppered the skyline... for the last time. It’s Lantern Day, the official end of Chinese New Year festival.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chengdu > Chongqing

Arts meeting over and I’m off to Chongqing. It’s the tail end of the Spring Festival and there are still hordes of people traveling – from home town back to town of work. The plaza in front of Chengdu Railway Station is full of ‘hard seat’ travelers kept back from the main building. Sounds a bit harsh, hanging around in the cold, but it makes sense; there’s just no room inside or on the platforms. Anyway, we finally get on a new high-speed train which now takes only two hours when only a couple of years ago it would have taken five. Pitch black so not much to see, until we alight in CQ and cross a bridge and there is Chongqing, looking – I kid you not – like Manhattan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


A day in a hotel seminar room with the arts team and assorted others, planning our activities for 2011/12. What art forms should we concentrate on? How are we going to find additional sponsorship? Which Tier 2 cities should we focus on? How can we better work with colleagues from our English, Education and Green teams to create more impact? How can we use digital more effectively? How can we work best with HQ in London? How can we keep everyone energized over two days in a medium-sized room? (Answer: eye exercises midway through the afternoon). We’ve gone for a very modestly priced hotel but it’s fine, and the team dinner this evening was cheap & cheerful too, and all the better for it. Had a strange experience with some mapo tofu dusted with spicy peppercorn powder which totally numbed my tongue, like dental anaesthetic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No Valentines

Today I have been surrounded by women, from dawn till way past dusk, but sadly no Valentines cards appeared under my door or found their way into my bag during an otherwise interesting day in grey Chengdu. In the morning four women plus moi thrashed out UK Now festival issues in a cavernous teahouse, while in the afternoon we were joined by the entire, mostly female, China arts team for a session at Sichuan Museum and a networking event in a British-run bookstore, the guests at which were mostly women. It’s funny how most arts managers are female. I remember when I did my Arts Management MA at City University and I was one of only two blokes in a class of twenty. Nice to get back to the hotel to find two bars of chocolate which my true Valentine had secreted into my suitcase.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Heavy snow overnight but miraculously managed to get a taxi which gingerly made its way to the airport. The scrapers, gritters & spayers were out in force, and I was having a coffee in the boarding lounge less then an hour after leaving home. Heathrow be damned! Having said that, we sat in the plane for an hour while they de-iced it.
Chengdu is another big (11m) Chinese city, capital of Sichuan Province, famous for pandas, on a plain between Chongqing and the Tibetan border. The afternoon was spent with 150 art students listening to Brit artist Mark Titchner talk about his work which sits somewhere in between fine art, graphic design and advertising. Pseudo-philosophical slogans, always in caps, scream from billboards and gallery walls. The effect is not a million miles away from the socialist-realist graffiti that doubtless once daubed the neighbourhood’s walls.

The neighbourhood has been well and truly gentrified now. Kuanzhai, where we went for dinner, is a tastefully done-up area of pedestrianised streets, tea houses, restaurants and shops in Ming & Qing style.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2 rpm

So Mubarak’s gone. Who'd have thought? That’s two revolutions this month. Exciting & worrying in equal measure. Where next?

Friday, February 11, 2011

R is for...

- Steve Reich
- Hans Joachim Roedelius
- Roxy Music
- Michael Rother
- Max Richter
- Steve Roach
- Terry Riley
- Lou Reed
- Radiohead

Rock & roll. Lots of good Rs. Steve Reich tops the list. Watching a televised performance of Music for 18 Musicians at the Roundhouse in 1977 was one of those epiphanal moments, and I could happily take any of his 70s output to a desert island. Less keen on 80s-&-after stuff although they have their moments too. In a similar vein, I'd have to have Terry Riley in there. And Max Richter who seems to be developing a nice career in soundtracks these days.

Roedelius is right up there with Reich. Particularly keen on the first two albums, Durch die Wuste ('78) and Jardin au Fou ('79) but there are plenty of other nuggets in a long and continually evolving career. Michael Rother also qualifies, again for late 70s albums, Flammende Herzen, Sterntaler and Katzenmusik, which still get regular airings in the Elliott household. It's true they're easy-on-the-ear, but in an interesting way.

Talking of which, it was a toss up between Steve Roach and Robert Rich. In the end Roach edges it with Desert Solitaire (with Kevin Braheny & Michael Stearns, '89) which had a profound influence on me while reading Edward Abbey's novel of the same name. Those big, dry, wide open spaces of Utah & Arizona...

Staying in the States and moving into R&R, I'd have to include Lou Reed, if only for the fabulous Transformer and maybe Berlin when I'm in the mood (but not Metal Machine Music). And REM for their first few albums. Roxy Music would definitely qualify, although oddly enough not really for the first two albums with Eno. I actually prefer Stranded (as does Eno aparently), which was one of the first dozen albums I ever bought, and Manifesto, Flesh & Blood and Avalon are semi-guilty pleasures. Oh, and Radiohead scrape in.

But there are so many more... Reload (one of Global Communication's many alter egos) should really be in there - on the strength of just one album, Selected Short Stories. Some great 70s Rs: Achim Reichel, Wolfgang Riechmann, Todd Rundgren, Jonathan Richman, Ramones, The Runaways, The Raincoats, The Rezillos...

Most of the rest span the last 30 years, so here goes: Eric Random, Recoil, Regular Music, Michel Redolfi, Blaine Reininger, The Residents, Martin Rev, Boyd Rice, Diana Rogerson, Mikel Rouse, Rachel's, Redshift, Red Snapper, Reprazent, Cheikha Rimitti, RNRM, Rovo, The Ruins, Royksopp, Alex Reece, Ruby, Rage Against the Machine, Renegade Soundwave, The Red Crayola, Henry Rollins (in small doses), The Redskins, Rain Tree Crow (aka Japan), and, er, The Rubettes (Sugar Baby Love is the guiltiest of pleasures)... Oh, and I liked Rush for about a day when I should have know better.

By now you will be wondering what happened to the Rolling Stones... OK, a few great 60s & 70s moments, but surely the most overrated band in history?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Finally, some precipitation. The fact that it's snow doesn't help alleviate the water shortage, but it did make A & N happy this morning. Tricky cycling to the office though...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The world's biggest museum?

Went to the Ministry of Culture's new year party at the National Museum of China this evening. The NMC has been closed for rennovation for three years but will re-open on 1 April so this was a sneak preview. Actually, I'd been in November when David Cameron was here and it was a construction site then, but is pretty much finished now. The architects are GMP from Germany who beat off stiff competition from Foster & Partners, Herzog & de Meuron etc. They've brought together two existing museums - Museum of the Chinese Revolution and Museum of Chinese History, both dating to 1959 - and created what some people are now calling 'the world's biggest museum'. The main lobby is 300m long and 30m high and the total floor area will be 200,000 sqm (The Louvre is 135,000 sqm). Naturally, the Germans get the first blockbuster show, The Age of Enlightenment, co-curated by museums in Berlin, Dresden and Munich. The fact that an exhibition about The Enlightenment will mark the re-opening of such an important national institution says something about China's opening up. There's even an enormous statue of Confucius outside, unthinkable 20 years ago.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This time last year my mum had completely lost her hearing. That's back to normal but normal is a hearing aid and the hearing aid is currently broken, so phone calls are still a little difficult, a bit like charades at times:

M: Are you travelling this month?
D: Yes, I'm off to Chengdu & Chongqing this weekend.
M: Chichester?
D: No, Chengdu... Famous for pandas.
M: Candy?
D: No pandas, you know, black & white bears.
M: Candy? Pears?
D: No, Pandas... P for Patrick, A for Andrew, N for Nick, D for David, A for Andrew...
M: Oh, pandas. And what was the other place?
D: Chongqing. Big city. Used to be the capital in the Second World War...
M: Something about apples?

Etcetera. Still, she was otherwise on fine form. Just about to go out gardening. Walked two miles back from town the other day. Not bad for 84 in a few weeks time.

Monday, February 7, 2011


A day wandering the hutongs - Beijing's backstreets, lanes & alleys, from Qiamen south of Tiananmen Square to Hou Hai, north-west of the Forbidden City. Much has been bullozered in the name of progress, but plenty still remains and is protected. There is a tendency to romanticise hutong homes but in truth a lot are dilapidated, without running water, heat and even electricity in some cases, and many residents often prefer to live in the newer apartment blocks. That said, there are desirable hutong addresses, particularly around the Forbidden City, with beautiful courtyards and all mod-cons. Anyway, we're quite happy living where we are.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday papers

If there's one thing I miss being abroad, it's the Sunday papers. As a teen, I used to get up before everyone else and devour The Observer colour supplement, review, sports, travel sections and those little Kaleidoscope catalogues selling executive toys, while listening to prog & krautrock in the dining room. This routine continued (without the prog) through the 80s and 90s until I moved abroad and that was that. Every summer I get re-acquainted and each time they get bigger & bigger, but not necessarily better. Free Prince album! Fantasy Football! 28 pages of Property! I pity the paperboys who have to deliver them. I did it for years and Sunday was always the worst. Dark winter mornings, haf a ton of paper strapped to my Chopper, a hundred houses, and all for 50p.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weird Brother

Other than my own, I don't spend much time on the blogosphere. Too much else to do: family, work, books, film, music, exploring Beijing... and I don't even do Facebook. But if there's one site I regularly visit, it's Weird Brother set up and lovingly nurtured by my mate Y Brawd aka Greg somewhere else in East Asia. A veritable cornucopia of weird & wonderful sounds from all over the world, past & present but mainly past. Today's is Haruomi Hosono's Cochin Moon from 1978, released just before he set up Yellow Magic Orchestra. But you will also find, in order of frequency, lots of psych, experimental, electronica and something called 'homespun'. Not to mention German, Japanese and French. Eclectic is the word and Greg has a way with them. Check it out!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Breughel in Beijing

This afternoon we wandered and slid around Houhai, the old hutong area north-west of the Forbidden City. I say slid, because you could skate across the lake. The scene looked like a Breughel panting. We rented a couple of... well, you could hardly call them sledges - more like rickety chairs on runners with a couple of long spikes as propellants. Great fun.

On our way home, we passed a dog, wearing a woolly coat. "Is it a stray?" asked N.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Today is the first day of the Chinese (lunar) new year - which falls on different dates of the Western calendar but always somewhere between 21 Jan and 20 Feb. The first 15 days are known as chunjie or Spring Festival (even though it's the middle of winter), and the first week of that is official public holiday. So I'm off work until next Wednesday. This year is the Year of the Rabbit, which A is very happy about.

We do what every Chinese family does at this time - we eat. Our landlord, Mr Jia and his wife invited us out. We walked through the debris of last night's fireworks to a local restaurant which specialises in food from Jiangsu province. I have difficulty telling regional food apart, which borders on heresy as there are clearly huge differences, but I'll get there. Anyway, it was a great lunch: noodles, dumplings, fatty pork, and a lovely white fish which Mr Jia told me was from Africa of all places. We didn't eat any rabbit.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A noisy New Year's Eve

From our 17th floor vantage, Beijing's skyline is bubbling. It's midnight and everywhere there are hundreds if not thousands of fireworks displays which have been going on for six hours non-stop and there's no sign of a let-up. It looks and sounds like the allied bombing of Baghdad. Goodness knows how much has been spent on it, and how our poor girls have slept through it.

Earlier, we went to a traditional Temple Fair in Ditan Park. Full of stalls selling food and festival tat, with the occasional show thrown in for good measure. We watched an impromptu performance by migrant oldies - the men playing traditional instruments, the ladies dancing in colourful garb. But I hear this sort of thing is slowly dying out.

And then on TV there was the big Spring Festival gala special watched by some 700 million people. We watched a bit of it: comedy, dancing, acrobatics, singing, the works. Very commercial, very OTT and completely over our heads.

Out with the Tiger and in with the Rabbit...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Q is for...

There are no Qs worthy of a top 10, but here are a dozen or so also rans, all under false prentences: Queen, who were actually not so bad in moderation; Quantum Jump; a couple of techno acts, Quasar and Q-Burns Abstract Message; Quicksilver Messenger Servce; a couple of Albania singers, Qamil e Vogel and Bugar Qamili; Finley Quaye (I love his guest appearance on Manna's second album); Queens of the Stone Age and Queensryche; the Chilean band, Quilapayun; Queen Lafitah and Queen Ida; Terri Quaye, a Ghanaian percussionist; Paul Young's old band The Q-Tips; and finally Questionmark & the Mysterons of 96 Tears fame. Pathetic.