Tuesday 31 March 2015

Anselm Kiefer Exhibition, Tullie House, Carlisle

My Cousin Glen and I recently went to see this exhibition at Tullie House. The exhibition is presented by Artist Rooms, a collection jointly owned by the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. I must be honest and say that I had never heard of Anselm Kiefer before but I am always ready to look at art that is new to me. This exhibition covers the period of the artist's career from 1969 to 2014.

Anselm was born in Germany in 1945 and now lives and works in France. He is considered one of the greatest European post-war  artists. He cites artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Caspar David Friedrich as influences and I can see some of the drama of Friedrich (who is a favourite of mine too) in his work but I can't see the van Gogh influence, except that there were some steel/iron sunflowers in one of his works. The first thing I noted about his art is that it tends to be either monochrome or earthy colours. He works in many mediums, paint, photography, metal, sculpture, collage, often using grit and sand to give the work texture, the earthy colours fit well with such media. He is fascinated by history, philosophy, mythology, science and the Third Reich and these subjects appear in his arts time and time again. There were a lot of exhibits on show but I will just write about three that interested me most.

The most striking painting for me was the one featured on the museum's exhibition information leaflet, (above) it was especially created for the exhibition and is called Urd, Verdando, Skuld (The Norns 1983.) The norns are "Fates" of Norse mythology representing Past, Present and Future, their names are written in chalk on the ceiling of the building. Hanging from the ceiling of the Third Reich-like building are the strings of destiny. All these subjects are ones that Kiefer frequently returns to. I looked at the pictures before reading the information about them and to me it looked like these strings were roots reaching down into a dark, murky vault of time, of history. Kiefer is of a generation of Germans that grew up after World War Two, and had to come to terms with and deal with the guilt of what had happened in their country shortly before they were born. He was not afraid to confront this history in his art, which also includes some self portraits of him doing the Nazi salute.  I am half German, born a few years after Kiefer and as I was growing up I was very aware of that feeling of oppressive history and guilt. I wasn't proud of my German background for a long time and even hid it, Now that has changed and I can embrace my heritage, because no country, no history, is totally negative and Germans have a lot to be proud of too. I think my own personal background made me see those things in that picture and I found it stirred a lot of emotion in me. It is a very hypnotic painting, it draws you in and looks much more impressive in real life than in the image in this post.

Another picture that I liked was Hortus Philosphorum (2010.) Keifer made piles of books from lead and photographed them. Over the books lay lead sunflowers, twigs and other items, Kiefer described lead as the "only material heavy enough to carry the weight of human history."  It was like the lead items were holding down the books, the knowledge trying smother them, but knowledge never dies. A very thought -provoking piece of work.

The next piece I liked was Untitled 1988. There were six small gold leaf covered items, and, being an ex-nurse, it soon dawned on me that they parts of the human body. These were casts of real body parts which included a kidney, inner ear and heart.  In the middle of them was a piece of seaweed that seemed to me like splayed out blood. Again, it made us think, these were such important parts of the body, of life, yet they were quite small.

I must admit I wasn't very impressed when I first went into the exhibition, it looked dull and strange. But as Glen and I  looked at the works we had many discussions about them, and they seemed to come to life. They captured our imagination, they made us think, made us talk and really, isn't that what good art should do?

The Anselm Kiefer Exhibition is at Tullie House, Carlisle until 7th June 2015, entry £3.00.

Monday 23 March 2015

Alan Davies Little Victories Tour, The Sands Centre, Carlisle

Last week my friend Jayne and I went to The Sands in Carlisle to see Alan Davies in his Little Victories tour. When he came on stage he was just as I imagined, warm, informal and having the ability to just chat to the audience like we were friends, all with a youthfulness about him that belied his 49 years. Initially he interacted a lot with the crowd, finding out where people were from (someone had come all the way from Birmingham, must be a superfan!) and he also asked about the ages of people which surprisingly ranged from teenagers to people in their 80's.
He talked a lot about his family. His mother died from leukaemia when he was six leaving his father to bring up Alan and his younger sister and older brother. Much of the early part of the show dealt with his fraught relationship with his father. Sometimes the honesty of it was very moving, yet not sentimental, and often very funny, not easy to meld together, but Alan managed this brilliantly. One of the anecdotes was that his dad loved every kind of jam except blackcurrant. So when the home help his father had hired was making a cake for Alan's father's birthday Alan told her to put blackcurrant jam in it because his dad like it. When his dad tasted it he exploded with anger and Alan got one of his "little victories" over his father. Another thing that made the talk of his father more poignant was that he is now suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
After examining his own childhood he discussed his own role as a father and trials and tribulations of raising young children (he has two children aged four and five) a lot. Not having children of my own I couldn't relate to much of this, but that aside, some of it was still very funny, especially when he talked of his daughter swearing for the first time and his son pretending to choke to get attention. It was clear most of the audience fully related to the highs and lows of bringing up children that he related.
He also talked about being taken out of his school where he was happy and sent to a public school that his own father had attended and which Alan hated. He was the youngest at the school and more interested in toys than the more adolescent pursuits of the youths around him. But again, he brings humour to this in his own inimitable way and had the audience roaring with laughter.
The show lasted almost two and a half hours, and you can only admire someone who can do stand up for that long. It all felt very natural and unscripted, which of course it would not have been, but his professionalism made it feel that way.  All in all it was a excellent night and it does us all the world of good to have a laugh and Alan certainly gave us plenty of them!

Friday 20 March 2015

Restaurant Review - Ruen, Carlisle

I've been visiting Ruen Thai Restaurant for many years now and have always enjoyed my meals there. It is conveniently located in the centre of Carlisle and there is parking nearby. The decor is beautiful, intricately carved tables and chairs, silk wall hangings and Thai painting of the wall, each table had a real orchid in a little vase on it. Tables have a good distance between them ensuring privacy. The general ambiance of the restaurant is very relaxing

To start Glen and I had the Ruethai Platter for two - Thai fishcakes, chicken satay skewers and Thai spring rolls served with a variety of dips. Everything was delicious I especially enjoyed the skewers, the chicken was very tender.

Our Main Course
For my main I had Nue Num Mun Hoy, Stir fried beef with oyster sauce, mushrooms and spring onions. Glen also went for a stir fry, Gad Pad Med Ma-Muang, chicken in a "slightly sweet" soy sauce with cashew nuts. To accompany it we had one steamed rice and one noodles. I thoroughly enjoyed the beef stir fry, the meat was tender and plentiful and full of subtle flavours. Glen loved her dish too. To accompany our meal we had a glass of wine each.

We didn't have room for a dessert and so just had a cappuccino each to finish the meal.  Throughout the meal the service was impeccable, very friendly and efficient and they make you feel important - the staff always recognise me when I go back there which is lovely.

For a starter for two, two mains, two coffees and two glasses of wine (one a large glass) the cost was just under £50.00 which I felt was well worth the money. It is well worth visiting if you are looking for a very good Thai restaurant. It also does takeaways.

Address:   4 Crosby Street
                 Carlisle CA1 1DQ

Website:  www.ruenthai.co.uk

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Songs of Innocence - My Thoughts

Well I've finally made myself sit down and write about U2's latest album, just six months after it's release lol! Not sure why I haven't written properly about it until now - it's certainly not because I don't like it. I'm not going to do a song by song review, there's no point now and I will not be writing a deep analysis either. I'm just going to write about what the album means to me.

Firstly, Songs of Innocence was a long time coming, over five years, which, even for the slow working U2, was a record. I must admit, though I've been a fan for over thirty years I didn't hold out much hope for this album. The band's last few albums, though good, were nothing outstanding, nothing that excited or surprised me and I honestly thought, that's it, they're in their 50's now and they have had an amazing career but they have lost that spark, that creativity. I hated to admit it to myself, but after all these years of being a fan, I was drifting away and not over-excited at the thought of a new album, I needed a U2 injection, a boost to bring me back to the fold.

The first surprise was the way it was released, we knew that we would see an album soon, but there it was, at the launch of the iPhone 6, free in your Cloud waiting to be downloaded, Songs of Innocence! Of course there were a lot of people who were "outraged" at this intrusion of their phones, But people didn't have to download it did they? I got a new HTC not that long ago and in my music there were various songs I didn't put there, I just deleted them, no big deal. But of course, the U2/Bono haters had to jump up and down about it.

Now I'm not into the corporate side of U2 that's developed over the last fifteen or so years, in fact I really dislike that side of them. I admired them when they were not into all that.  But, like it or not U2 is a business as well as a great band, that's the reality and this PR stunt really got them and Songs of Innocence into the headlines, something they probably needed as they had been absent from the scene for so long. I think in some ways it may have backfired a little as many people were talking more about the so-called phone intrusion rather than the actual music on the album. But that aside U2 were back in the spotlight.

So this surprise release got me all excited, and, once I'd figured out how to download it, I listened to it. And I listened again. For me it wasn't instantly an amazing album, but, for the first time in many years, here was a U2 album where the music surprised and excited me, it was not safe or predictable, it was, different, very different and had me both questioning and feeling a buzz inside which is always a good sign!

I quickly realised this was the album I'd wanted U2 to make for a very long time, it's an album about their own roots and influences in Ireland. They've explored other influences in their career but never the things that from their early pre-fame days formed them in who they are as people and a band. I've always felt that, besides their talent, two things make U2 special, the fact that they the best of friends and that they are Irish (or in the case of Adam and Edge grew up in Ireland) being Irish is a big part of what makes this band great. So for me it was only natural that they would one day explore that in their music.

The albums looks at both musical influences The Miracle of Joey Ramone (The Ramones) and This is Where You Can Reach Me Now (The Clash)  and more personal songs such as Iris about Bono's mother who died when he was 14, and Cedarwood Road, the street where Bono grew up, and the beautiful, melodic Song for Someone about Bono's childhood sweetheart Ali who he is still married to now. Iris especially is heart-breakingly personal and incredibly moving. I have always admired artists are able to open their heart and soul to the audience like this.

The lyrics (credited to both Bono and Edge) are some of the most honest and soul-baring I've seen from U2 and are some of the best written for many years. I've always been a fan for whom the lyrics are as important as the music and over the last few releases I felt that the lyrics were often lacking, but with this album they are up to the best U2 standard once more.

As a fan of 32 years, I feel Songs of Innocence is very much an album for longtime fans like myself. We are of a similar age, and really understand where the songs are coming from, many of us have lived through similar experiences. And we used to buy our U2 albums as 12 inch LPs, (as per SOI cover) no Internet or downloads then! There is a tour starting in a couple of months and these songs will change and develop as always on tour, so looking forward to hearing them live.

Finally, there is a rumoured follow-up album called Songs of Experience which will be a look at their experiences later in their career. To me, and many others, it feels like these two albums are a lead up to the end of U2. It's telling their story in music, and, to me, it would be a good way to say goodbye. The band are in their mid-50's now and you have to be realistic about how much longer they can go on. They will have been together for 40 years next year, and still producing good music, what an achievement - and it also would be a good time to bow out. But who knows!

Is Songs of Innocence a great U2 album on a par with The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby? I don't think so, but it is a great creative, honest piece of music from a band that still has something to say. It is also the album that brought me back into the U2 fold, even now U2 can still surprise me!