William Topley's Notes
The Lotus Eaters
Friday, March 29, 2013
The Romans knew this shore and then the moors and now it seems we are on our way. So let us see the caged birds in the shaded market of Las Ramblas in Tarragona and seek the shape of a wind blown pine tree on the rugged cliffs of els munts. Let us listen to the quiet drone of the crickets in an afternoon of sun in an ancient olive grove. Look down from the Fisherman's chapel at the deep blue sea, three castles in your view. Let the lemons, limes and oranges burst a- flower beneath the solemn toll of the huge church bell in the silence of siesta.
We are the lotus eaters, the seekers of the mediterranean ideal and we see in wine and olive a link to our Roman past, as tangible even as to occasionally slur the speech and unsteady the legs. Even cheat the memory. As for the guitar, was not this very instrument conceived here in Iberia? On it's strange North African fretboard the very shapes, the pertinent truths of music were derived.
Where better to sit and play songs of love than in the scented garden of a Spanish inn on a May evening?
In a world of rapid change a bit of time nurturing ones roots seems advisable.
So sign up now you naughty lot, for whom a quick Easy Jet south, at 30 euros a pop, is the key to all this and more.
Calling all Europeans...
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Calling all Europeans, let's show our American cousins that we can party as well as they can.
Where are the Dutch, German, and French vinticutural paellistas?
Where are the Archangel crew and their sleek estate cars, sliding efficiently off the ferry and down the Peage towards the purple light of morning, that is the Spanish frontier?
Where are the pan continental appreciators of Barcelona culture?
We all know the Jack Daw, we know that Miro, Gaudi, Dali and the boys were all quite the Belle Epoque Nibs and not just on account of the usual naughty, Blue period, Barrio Gotico Fundador debauches.
Some of us will be visiting the museums, cathedrals and forts that flourish along this ancient coast. Some of us will not.
I will be going to Spain to take delivery of that 3000 euros worth of rice from the Ebro delta, ham from the mountains of Montserrat, and all the myriad triumphs of the wine makers of Penedes, that I ordered last month. You are all, still, most welcome to accompany me.
Bung in another 500 worth of Gambas, a few bricks of Fortuna and I think you begin to get the picture......
Anyway the point I wish to make, is that we are going….. Oh and they do a great coffee with Brandy, I think that's the machine boiling now,
I will see you down here.
Sweeping the beaches....
Friday, February 22, 2013
Must I re-seal the Berber goatskin of my wine peron? Must I muslin up the Manchego, put the Serrano in the cellar, and turn off the coffee and fag machines?
For weeks we have been dusting the mould off the fine Riojas and the Vinas del Sol, and investing in costly items like guitar strings and bags of ice.
I don't understand. Has no one mentioned to you that the proposed line up for this jaunt to the Med is the full band?
I understand that Pepe, and his on-site team, are already re-tubing Luke and James' amps, tuning drums,
and clearing 20k out of the authentic Roman P.A.
Palms are being trimmed, beaches being swept and paella dishes being scoured for you.
The band and Lauren will have to go now, even if no one else likes us, and that 3000 euros worth of wine and cheese that I've already ordered, is going to make us look pretty silly.
Music & Culture in Altafulla this May...
Monday, February 11, 2013
Presently I became Eighteen and took off for Catalunya, from London, on the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry and the train via Paris, to Barcelona and Altafulla.
Brandies on the ferry were considered obligatory in those days and my travelling companion and I did our bit at the rolling bar sur la manche.
A two hour crossing was long enough to get a few drinks in and have a traditonal french luncheon in 'Le Commandant' the 'plus snob' of the on board dining options.
This luxury, and the last look at the white cliffs from the deck, were a direct link to the Blue Train delights of Edwardian continental touring, and one felt quite the be-gartered Fauntleroy,
perusing the carte des vins with spotty faced sixth form indolence.
As would be the case on every other trip abroad I have made since, a quick glance at the faces of the Police Nationale et Controles des Frontiers, was enough to sober me up for the 3 hour ride to Paris.
Outside the darkened window the frozen brown fields of the department Somme et Marne sped by, marked only by the occasional shards of red neon, advertising the vast Wine warehouses and Bargain Bin Behemoth's that cater to the casual Kentish smuggler.
Into a cab at the Gare de Nord, and across the golden city in the winter night, the Olympia, the Opera, the Islands of the wine dark Seine and the mad Belle epoque electricity pylon of the Tour.
A brief dinner of steak frites at the Gare de Lyons and on the to the train south to Port Bou, at the Spanish border, where the trains, even in the 80's, still had to change gauge.
Down with the Couchettes out with the plonk and fromage and of course in those halcyon days out with the (dirt cheap) french ciggies and briquets. At four you could see the south begin, the first olives and dusty Morrocan date palms in the orange station lights, and then awake again at six to the smell of the Mediterranean and the harsh, strong mountain sunlight.
Everybody gets out and walks down the dusty platform and into a small control booth to get their passports stamped before leaving France (ludicrously heavy handed officiousness in retrospect) and on to the coffee and cigar thick ambiente of the Dounnas Espanol.
On to the new Renfe train and on our way to Barcelona Estacion Sants down the coast of the Costa Brava, past bays and coves and mountains, all the while clinging to the edge of the deep blue sea.
Change of train to a local line and we emerged at lunch time, the day after leaving London, from the tiny station at Altafulla. The citadel town with Church and castle sat three hundred feet above us, and we trudged up the hill in the November sun. It was totally silent. Rural Spain... 1982... midweek.... siseta time... Everything shut.
We found our house in the old town and after a quick wash and brush up we headed out to find some beer and a bocadillo or two.
By the end of the week we were the talk of the town, the two young englishman slaughtering Stones songs (Los Rollings) from bodega to cantina, deep into the latin night.
The rats may rustle in the palm fronds, and moon shadows on the ancient walls are cast by silent stray cats, but the scent of the night-flowers in the courtyard gardens of the Calle Marti,
make London seem a thousand years away.
Wine, strong Vino Negro from the fields around the village, flowed day and night, along with pungent mineral waters, air cured hams and handsome loaves. There was beer and garlic, tomatoes and olive oil, and in the bar there was always the smell of frying buttifara, and last nights black tobacco, the familiar morning after music miasma.
I knew that week that I would have to spend a very large part of my life outside of the United Kingdom.
Please join me and the band for a weekend of music and culture in Altafulla this May
Reflections Over Bimini...
Thursday, November 29, 2012
The view out of the American Airlines Regional Jet window is other worldly, far below in a Peter Pan sea, the fish hook shaped island lies on the edge of the dark blue gulf stream. The vast cloud patterns that parade in towering swirls across the Atlantic beyond are like the nimbus music of Bach or a renaissance fresco of heaven. Far away the sea and sky merge into a smudged horizon of hyper reality.
However all is not well in seat 14A, for I am still moving on a journey that started 12 hours ago in a taxicab in East Boston. Leaving Scott's party with Guy Fletcher and McKay on a round about tour of the local sights courtesy of our rather bossy cab driver.
McKay: “Mandarin Oriental Hotel please...”
Driver: “Quickest way, past airport.”
McKay "We are still talking about Logan airport not Bangor Maine?”
Me: "Oh look, there's my Holiday Inn on Friend Street, I'll see you boys in England."
Driver: "Yes, Friend Street is first."
And so it goes on. Strangers’ faces at the stoplights in the rain, used car lots and muffler centers, odd churches and solitary pedestrians.
Scott had done a great job putting together a band for the show in Boston, so thank you to them and to him for his hospitality. It was great to be back in Boston after so long, and to talk to so many friendly people who had seen us years before in The House of Blues in Cambridge.
In Colorado, Dorie and I were joined on stage by Taylor Mespie on accordian and keys, and Christian Teele on drums. I thought they did a great job and I really enjoyed Taylor's Bruce Hornsby-esque runs on the piano and Louisiana swells on the accordion.
I am sorry that the poster for the Fox showed the Black River Band in the photo because I was never in a position to bring all the boys out on this trip and if it confused people I am sorry. I had confidence the American musicians would not let me down and they didn't, so thank you to them and to all of you who came out early in the week for the re-scheduled shows.
With this sort of a line up we were never going to rise to the giddy heights of mad energy that the Fox Christmas shows of yesteryear recall, but I am still pleased to be able to get out at and play the songs in whatever form I am able to make happen.
Portland is always a pleasure and the addition of Bill on drums made the Mission Theatre seem a very friendly place to start the little tour. It's a shame we missed our KINK session because of our delayed arrival in to the US but I am hopeful that next time we come to town we can get up there for a little live music. It was nice to talk to people at the end of the show and everyone I spoke to seemed to have enjoyed it.
Thank you to Dorie, for putting up with me and this punishing schedule of check-ins and take offs, and for remembering so many lyrical non-sequiturs. Thank you to Lauren for setting it all up, Bree for logistics and Paul himself for making it happen and actually being at the gig in Boston which was a really nice way to end this mini-tour.
Above all thanks to the people who came out to see us in all four cities. I am so grateful to you all for your support and interest in my music.
Back in 14A I stare out of the window as the Abacos show themselves through the velvet clouds, and ahead the long thin hundred mile line of Eleuthera as it marks the continental drop off.
Hmm.... not a bad place Boston. Really interesting people at the party last night and you can be down here by 1:45 in the afternoon, I wonder.......
Jamaica...The Heart of the Caribbean
Friday, November 2, 2012 at 10:47am
Let us drag the page back to happy thoughts and music and specifically the music of Jamaica. For it is that green flanked isle that is occupying my mind on these dark autumn nights. The last time I was there must be 10 years ago, and I stayed at 'Blue Harbour' Noel Cowards' house in Port Maria. There were quite a few of us in the party and all the garden bungalows were taken so I was lucky enough to bed down in the top room of the house with the Cuba deep filling the windows and the salt rich breeze stirring the calico curtains.
Never a brilliant correspondent, I felt compelled to write to my parents on the headed paper I found in the bedside drawer, which was transparently from the Masters' era. What a long way from Teddington Mr Coward had travelled, and what a compliment to the island that this inexhaustible world traveller chose to live on this coral coast. He really had been everywhere, and yet found in Jamaica the most magical Eden and the most romantic of all British outposts.
He first visited the island after the war on a banana boat from New Orleans to rent Goldeneye, the rustic villa on the hill at Oracabessa that his friend Ian Fleming had built on the old donkey racetrack. Before the end of his five-week stay Coward had purchased two parcels of land, one on the corner of the coast road into Port Maria itself and one on the magical mountaintop above the bay.
In 1987 a group of us from London flew to the island and stayed in a small hostel in Discovery Bay so we could explore Goldeneye, Firefly and Blue Harbour itself. Violet, Ian Fleming’s original housekeeper, was still in charge of the property in those days and was happy to show us around. I had my photo taken at the bullet-wood desk that Fleming wrote all of his thirteen James Bond novels, and we were delighted to swim in the private cove below the villa. A massive buttress reef adjoins the property and even fifty feet off shore the coral heads are thirty feet high and teeming with sea life. As you can imagine it was very exciting to see this lotus land for ourselves after reading so much about it over the years.
However it was Firefly, Noel Cowards' mountain retreat which impressed us even more. A charming Rasta taxi man drove us up the winding drive and we emerged in sunlight to the most wonderful view we had ever seen. Rolling away towards Portland were the tumbledown hills and bays that Lynn Fontaine said reminded her of empty theatre seats. Behind the house the mystic Blue Mountains rose up in vertiginous majesty and we wandered round in awe, taking in the vibes of this unique place.
All of the Masters' things were still in place, both pianos moulding in the tropic air, sketches and sculptures lining the studio shelves and hardback books mildewing quietly in the open windowed sitting room. We knew precious little about Noel Coward in those days apart from his various film roles (Our Man in Havana and The Italian Job etc) and his songs. His live album from Las Vegas which was ubiquitous on 1960's British turntables was familiar to all of us, but it was the style of his house that startled me and from that day I have been an ardent Cowardist.
His plays, stories, and diaries have kept me entertained ever since. From him I learned about Somerset Maugham and many is the lonely dinner I have spent with one of their books propped up on the table in front of me as company. Bermuda, Switzerland, Kent, Bora Bora, he was always there first with a wry comment and a self-aware remark. As Ken Tynan said, “he combined two things for ever separate in the English mind, hard work and wit.”
It is no accident that whether it is the Place Vendome or the Jamaican Hills or the quiet villages of the Berner Oberland you will find Coward and twenty years later Keith Richards, renewing their energies to entertain us again. From his Jamaican hide away, he popped up to New York, to pioneer early live productions of his works for Ford Motors on US television.
Vast audiences tuned in to marvel at his talent. You can find some of these shows on YouTube and they still feel fresh now. Timing and humour and rapier quick word play still shine through the kinescope recordings. You can tell I'm a fan!
So let's go. I'm ready to fall in love with Jamaica again and I would like to show you the hidden treasures of this pirate isle. Leave aside the 'all inclusive' and taste the real JA, as that guy says in Naked Gun 3, 'I want a ticket to Jamaica, and I want to go to a resort that reflects the real culture of the island.’
Next week we can discuss Reggae music and its dominant influence on dance music world wide over the last thirty years, via rap, hip hop and electronica. Jamaica...the heart of the Caribbean.