Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

The debate about course rankings continues among the more learned and informed minds in the golfing industry and probably even more so among the less informed armchair experts found in the locker rooms and 19th holes around the world. Courses are rated according to a variety of categories, including shot values, design aesthetics, memorability and conditioning, to name but a few. Some courses just age gracefully with a timeless beauty and it is this appeal that sometimes contributes to elevating their status. Royal County Down is a recent example – now holding pole position after dethroning Pine Valley.

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Augusta National Golf Club: Hole 12 ~ par 3 (Golden Bell)

Augusta, on the other hand, has had more surgery than Mickey Rourke, and perhaps, even more lifts than a naked hitchhiker. However, when one visits Augusta during the week of The Masters, there is no price on the experience which is quite simply a ‘mind melt’.  Unfortunately, even arriving at the nearby Augusta Regional Airport in your Gulfstream V and flashing a Visa Black won’t get you on for 18 there. One could be pardoned for attempting to buy a piece of this platinum blonde though. Her appeal goes way beyond the extraordinary and all the doctoring to Alister MacKenzie’s original masterpiece can be forgiven. Let’s just hope they don’t take it too far and start bleaching the putting cups.

Being a photographer of courses as one of my preferred genres, the base from which I serve my opinion is not broad enough for it to encompass all of the categories with authority. My opinion comes more from a visual/aesthetic and design perspective. I once asked two wine farmers what they felt was the best red wine and their answer was brilliant…”the red wine that you like – is a good wine.” This answer won’t cut it in the golf course rankings world. Grading timeless appeal, beauty, resistance to scoring etc. requires deeper analysis. Some may argue that a more equitable system might be to rank courses by way of a tier-based model, rather than from 1 – 100.

Being a photographer of courses as one of my preferred genres, the base from which I serve my opinion is not broad enough for it to encompass all of the categories with authority.

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Pebble Beach Golf Links: Hole 7 ~ par 3

Does a 65-year old course-ranking panelist, whose lag is not confined to his golf swing, have any business rating a monster such as Augusta? Perhaps he does, given the more mature membership at many of the older golfing establishments. Conversely, letting an average golfer loose at Augusta may also be akin to fighting a marlin with a fly rod. Playing ‘oot-a-yer-shocks’ at Loch Lomond, combined with a special invite in the enjoyable company of a colourful 4-ball may just sway a panelist’s opinion over a below-average round at Carnoustie with a dour playing partner. Failing a stern test of golf can also leave one quite dejected. For some, rejection from the most beautiful of women can make them seem ugly – as Jim Morrison alluded to, when he sang, “Woman seem wicked, when you’re unwanted”, from the cut, People are Strange.

It’s like trying to make sense of Time’s top 100 movies. Should On the Waterfront place ahead of Amadeus…? To some silver-screen aficionados it should, but not so, in my opinion!! But then, does my opinion weigh as heavily as a respected and accomplished movie critic with some 30 years in the industry? In truth, beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, and any academic approach to ranking golf courses, no matter how logical, will always be contentious.

“In truth, beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, and any academic approach to ranking golf courses, no matter how logical, will always be contentious.”

In one of the most compelling acting scenes in movie history, F. Murray Abraham, playing the tortured Salieri in Amadeus, describes Mozart’s genius, –  “Misplace one note and there would be diminishment. Misplace one phrase and the structure would fall.” Can the same can be said of the original designs and genius of Dr MacKenzie?

 

 

“Misplace one note and there would be diminishment. Misplace one phrase and the structure would fall.”

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The Links at Fancourt: Hole 16 ~ par 5

If courses are ranked according to tier status – Diamond (Top 10), Platinum (11-20) and so on, it may provide a more balanced assessment. Or, perhaps, the notion of an undisputed champion simply appeals to the innate desires of the human psyche.

In South Africa for example, I’m not convinced we can place The Links ahead of Leopard Creek or the GPCC and St Francis Links. They are all outstanding layouts with their own unique characteristics. Certainly, in my opinion, they all deserve Diamond status.

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The Gary Player Country Club, Sun City: Hole 14 ~ par 5

We don’t want a socialist model doused with complacency triumphing individual spirit. One may argue that a capitalistic ranking system rewards merit, while a ‘socialist style’, tier-based system rewards mediocrity. That can be true for many models, none more so than in education, however, the very nature of the ranking categories may be too complex for such a sweeping comparison.

This is bound to stoke debate and both arguments have merit. Opinions…??

Light, Landscapes & Misplaced Myths

Light, Landscapes & Misplaced Myths

It has been said that a photograph or painting of a landscape without clouds is like food without salt. Some may ignorantly remark on gorgeous weather conditions (sunshine and clear skies) as being ideal for capturing landscape images. Well, lets just say, clear skies, like lumpy gravy, don’t cut it. Capricious and inclement weather are a landscape artist’s preferred main course.

De Zalze Golf Club: Western Cape, South Africa

Dramatic skies and shafts of light that illuminate the subject are what contribute to impacting and compelling images of landscape scenes. These conditions are often fleeting and in many instances a lack of patience and commitment can see photographers abandoning their positions.

I have been found out on a few occasions by ‘giving up’ only to find golden light flooding my surrounds whilst driving away. The upholstery in the ceiling above my head in my vehicle is littered with fist indentations bearing testimony to emotional overspill. This only has to happen a few times for the lesson to be learned. One can be found waiting patiently for up to two hours to capture a critical moment of harmonious arrangement.

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St Francis Links: Eastern Cape, South Africa

The other myth among some ardent photographers is that the light must be behind you in order to create an image. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shooting into the light and/or with the sun being at 90 degrees to the camera is what creates dimension. Dappled shadows and light – that is what many of the master painters of old understood well. Shooting with the light behind you flattens the image into a dull and lifeless scene without form. Chiaroscuro is what is enchanting and mysteriously attractive.

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WMJ Turner’s Flint Castle

In simple terms, when the low sun appears through the gaps in a cloud-filled sky, what happens is that the light reflects off the canopy of clouds above and creates the ‘golden light’ phenomenon – especially so with clouds a little pregnant with rain. This scenario plays out only for a few minutes and one has to be composed and ready to capture what is unfolding. It is for the same reason why artist’s websites with white backgrounds fail to convincingly enhance the colours in images. Light to dark greys are the neutral colours that emphasize the richness of an image.

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Leopard Creek: Mpumalanga, South Africa

So, nothing new to the enlightened, but hopefully a small, polished pearl for those enthusiastic to create art. Jim Morrison in his American Prayer eloquently said, “oh great creator of being, grant us one more hour to perform our art” – unfortunately, if we’re not ready, He ain’t going to slow the Earth’s rotation for us.

 

 

LAST CHANCE SALOON

LAST CHANCE SALOON

Don’t write the Boks off – just yet!!

 Occasional Commentary

The two recent tests against Australia and NZ had much of the rugby world commenting on the Bok centre-pairing of De Allende and Kriel, igniting an exciting, creative and inventive attacking combination, not seen since the days of the mercurial Danie Gerber/Michael du Plessis and Mannetjies Roux /Joggie Jansen alliances. Most of the Bok fan base must have been irresistibly persuaded that they had seen the birthing of something special.

Jean de Villiers, while having contributed immensely over the years, is past his best and this was immediately demonstrated in the clash against Argentina. If Heyneke Meyer had to persist in placating him with the captaincy and resultant inclusion in the line-up, the question begs why wasn’t he given the number 14 jersey – a position he is not unfamiliar with. Why disrupt a rare find?  Arguing the merits of withdrawing De Villiers at this stage cannot be compared to what was the greatest travesty in Bok rugby history – the dropping of Gary Teichmann prior to the ’99 RWC. Teichmann had just come off a seventeen-game winning streak! Bobby Skinstad had not yet earned the title of ‘Players’ Captain’ and sadly the squad of ‘99 went to war without their commander. As Obama has found out, it is one thing to campaign, but another to govern – perhaps, at the time, Nick Mallett was more eloquent than clever? Naas Botha, on the other hand, is far more clever than he is eloquent, given he seldom comments in his mother tongue. There may some truth in this rugby genius’ sage advice in choosing your best 15 players before deciding on the captain.

Since their return from isolation, the Boks have for the most part, been playing ‘catch-up’ to the new styles and tactics that are forged by Australia and NZ. Their method of play has been overwhelmingly one-dimensional, and when creative passages and innovative strategies have been exhibited, it’s because they have followed the examples set by their southern hemisphere rivals. Over the years, many of our tries have come from intercepts and ‘Forrest Gump’ breakaways, much less from resourceful and creative play. Digesting the potency of the Kriel/ De Allende merger is as invigorating as downing a freshly squeezed carrot juice with a copious dose of raw ginger – Homer Simpson style.

It is understandable to a point, but largely unacceptable, that the coaching staff are experimenting at such a late hour given the world cup is just weeks away. Australia were nowhere a year ago, but it was then that they sacrificed a winning culture in favour of rebuilding.

Patrick Lambie is clearly a class-above. He brings a level of composure to the backline and he is no stranger to leadership – a role he may yet be asked to fill. His visionary skills in executing movement and attacking options are rare, however, the continued rotation with Handré Pollard cannot positively impact his self-belief. No question, Pollard is strong in the tackle and his straight and incisive running brings much-needed dimension, but the generalship and peripheral visionary skills that Lambie has been gifted with, warrant him being seeded first. His ability to adapt, especially so to the softer fields in the UK, allows him to edge Pollard as playmaker. A good boxer adapts to a southpaw, a fighter and/or a good counter puncher – perhaps Pollard is more adept at playing to his strengths on the harder pitches of the Highveld at this stage of his career. He is undoubtedly a fine player and will be key in any plans going forward. With Pollard on the bench at fly half or centre – Meyer is spoiled for choice.

It is with reservation that any one player should be singled-out and vilified, but what is not acceptable at any level of rugby, is that aimless clearances into the waiting arms of opposing backs be executed. This thoughtless aspect of play is tantamount to simply passing the ball to the opposition. A child would know that the percentages clearly favour a loss-of-possession when employing this inane tactic. Ever hopeful of the recipient spilling the ball exposes a team’s lack of confidence in their own multi-dimensional attacking options.

Kitch Christie’s standard question before every test to Francois Pienaar was always, “Cappie, what’s your game-plan?” It has become commonplace to witness the absence of this basic requirement in the Bok’s approach to the art-of-war. The Wallabies are probably the most obvious example of altering and/or adapting to new tactics and strategies mid-game. Oftentimes, when trailing at the break, their 15-minute interlude serves them well in working out the opposition’s weaknesses. How frequently do we see the Aussies, ‘working you out’ – coming back from the brink of defeat and clinching the game, even if just by a point. They know how to win!! In fact Sun Tzu devoted an entire chapter in his masterpiece to ‘the variation of tactics.’

For the most part, autopsies on the first test against Argentina have concentrated on the performances in this game alone and I suspect an average showing in the return encounter this weekend will elicit similar discussion – yet one must look at the promise shown in the games earlier on in the competition to arrive at a more balanced appraisal.

Without McCaw’s ‘steal’ and the Boks handing the jailers keys to their Aussie captives – the South Africans may well have been going to the UK with their tails up. The sneaky try by Argentina with the support staff still on the field, never mind that the ref had his back to Jean de Villiers when he resumed play – and an entirely different end-result may also have materialized. But, as Victor Ortiz found out against ‘Money’ Mayweather, the rules state, “protect yourself at all times.”

Much of the aforementioned may infuse a measure of insecurity into South Africa’s confidence levels for the coming world cup, however, the skill and passion showcased in the tests against Australia and New Zealand surely must, to some extent, erase this erstwhile inept display and bode well for their campaign. The players know what they are capable of, having put the two best sides in the world to the sword recently, albeit for the first 60 minutes of each game. To panic now and reveal a lack of confidence by Meyer and his staff would be akin to standing in the men’s change room, hoping The Beast doesn’t draw up alongside you.

Exacting revenge in Buenos Aires this coming weekend could also be unwise motivation for reclaiming some semblance of national pride. Working the Pumas out and playing to our strengths may be a more prudent approach to achieving redemption. I remember a profound moment while standing on the first tee within earshot of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at the Presidents Cup 2003. Gary asked Jack what his thoughts were about his opponents when doing battle on the final day of a major, knowing that the competition was fierce. Jack answered, “I hoped that they would play well, but that I would play even better”. To my mind this was a great answer – eliminating negative thoughts and directing positive energy into his game.

During WW2, General Patton once asked his subordinate generals in a strategy meeting if they were all thinking alike. They all nodded submissively. He bellowed, “Well then, none of you are thinking!!”

Compelling leadership with a steely, ‘Patton-like’ resolve is what Meyer needs. Whether he possesses this and can appropriate the teachings of Tzu will be revealed (assuming he has read this work, which I am sure he has). Apologizing to the nation, however admirable, won’t necessarily translate into ascendancy on the field.

Sport, as in war, is largely won on the battlefield in the mind. Confidence grows out of a winning culture, not once-off home runs. The cultivation of wise command and control surely must begin at a deeper level of counsel than just with Meyer and his men. Theirs is a far more unenviable and delicate balancing act to manage though – we have yet to see the ramifications of political interference take its full toll in the run up to, during and after RWC 2015.

South African rugby is blessed with an abundance of raw talent and moulding and shaping our youngsters at junior level into deeper thinkers on the strategies of the game will eventually translate into a higher percentage of success as they mature. Too much hope rests upon big, strong ball carriers, as has been our custom historically. While the likes of Willem Alberts and other large modern day gladiators are imposing and in some cases effective, Australia have two loose forwards whose combined weight equates to just one of our flankers – well almost..!! Big overhand rights don’t always win fights – quick jabs and sharp left-hooks are what distract and fell even the biggest of men.

Playing junior soccer goes a long way to developing ball skills and understanding space. The Pumas demonstrated these inherent skills last weekend. As in soccer, a key element in gaining dominance over opposing teams is to realize that it is equally important to know what to do after passing the ball. That is why I believe Ruan Pienaar continues to be picked. He is a far better rugby player than he is a scrumhalf. Watch him closely once he has distributed the ball.

Meyer takes a lot of the heat and the buck shouldn’t necessarily stop with him. Some harsh critics unfortunately take it to a personal level. Sure, he wears his heart on his sleeve and rocks to and fro in his booth like a crash test dummy upon impact, but that’s his signature style. During the national anthem hy sing sy gat af, and, while that is admirable, perhaps this emotionally charged management style may in some way impact on his ability to hold his nerve – an essential prerequisite for strong leadership. He is not where he is because of incompetence though – RWC 2015 may be his last chance saloon to atone – and I have a sneaking suspicion he and his charges may just pull off a final showdown with Australia, but in all probability a bridge too far.

As for being pulled off at half time, Vincent Koch was ecstatic when asked how he felt about this, stating that when he last played, he was only given oranges at the break.

Passion, Feel & Unconscious Competence

Passion, Feel & Unconscious Competence

Composing and capturing compelling photographs requires some special ingredients. I am referring to photography as a whole, but with particular emphasis on natural light, landscape photography. Place me in a studio and you will be sorely disappointed with the results. It’s not my area.

Gary Player Country Club: Sun City, South Africa
Gary Player Country Club: Sun City, South Africa

This is my personal take on how I approach my craft and, certainly, it may not sit well with others. Thanks be to God we are all different and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others.

Let me say from the outset, I never studied photography in a formal sense. Any references to artists by way of examples in this blog is by no means an attempt on my behalf to align myself with greatness. I have used these examples to illustrate my point. While there are certain laws and principles in place that govern the art, being self-taught by immersing myself in everything I could get my hands/eyes on, I probably haven’t, in essence, been constrained by some of these rules. Perhaps this freedom may have contributed to my personal style. Photography, or any art form, I feel, is hugely influenced by one’s signature style and to my mind, of paramount importance is the ability to create visually, work that can stir the soul. A work that can be ingested over time, revealing subtleties as the viewer savours the piece, is, the whole point of the exercise – to arouse one’s emotions.

De Zalze Golf Club: Western Cape, South Africa
De Zalze Golf Club: Western Cape, South Africa

I have been an assiduous reader on all things photographic for some 20 years, studying the old master painters, the pioneering photographers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and those that are renowned today in their varying aspects of the art.

When one falls in love with someone/something, one gives it their all, or at least should do. To live and breathe photography is in itself very nourishing for the soul, and the passion and commitment to my art is simply a natural by-product of my love for it.

It is well known that there are probably three key elements that make a compelling image – Timing, Light and Composition. When these three harmonize, the image graduates to one that can be savoured. I agree!  However, I would like to add passion to this list. If we were to look at any success story, be it a sports star, artist or entrepreneur, their common key ingredient would be passion. A subset of other qualities that fall under passion are, self-discipline, commitment, focus and determination. Talent is an intangible that, if built upon, will separate you from the rest – provided your passion is running at maximum revs. Talent can be overrated and oftentimes lulls the recipient of this gift into mediocrity.

When the final image is presented, the emotions that are stirred, are what I would refer to as being the ‘whole that is greater than the sum of its parts’… this is the enrichment one feels in one’s soul when savouring the piece. It’s all the essential ingredients infused into one complete whole.

But, of all the ingredients that go into the making of this photographic ‘cake’, passion is the one key ingredient that will make it rise.

Molenaars River,DuToitskloof: Western Cape
Molenaars River, DuToitskloof: Western Cape

If we look at Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, I’m not sure if we have ever seen him measuring out the ingredients meticulously. When we look at the guitar playing geniuses such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Healey – did they continually look at their guitars while playing? If we want to see an example of passion and ‘living’ and ‘feeling’ one’s craft, we need look no further than SRV shredding to Leave my Little Girl Alone or the gifted, but blind Jeff Healey playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Do we see an NBA basketball player bouncing the ball and looking at it? Do Lionel Messi or Rinaldo continually look at the ball when they dribble or run with it at their feet? The answer to all of these questions is ‘no’. In fact, an interesting exercise would be to freeze–frame these footballing greats when they strike for goal. You will notice that they mostly do not ever even look at the target. Their peripheral vision allows the ball to become an extension of them. The guitar becomes an extension of SRV and Jeff Healey. This is what separates the exceptional from the average.

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With photography, the camera must also become an extension of the photographer. The technical or principle laws that govern photography, in most cases, must be a ‘given’ at a subconscious level. It is unwise to be found pondering over exposure and focal lengths when one is composing in fleeting light. (I am making the assumption that we only shoot manually). D.O.F., ISO, shutter speed and aperture require instant, intuitive analysis. The feel of the image, accounting for light, arrangement and composition will, over time, become commensurate with one’s personal style – and become less of a thief of time as one gains in experience. An infusion of all of these characteristics will contribute to the final work.

We need to achieve a level of unconscious competence!

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“Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Also, importantly, one has to have a mindset of zero tolerance for compromising on quality. Starting with capturing the image, if you feel it can be improved upon, don’t settle. Obviously, with event photography, one can’t recreate scenarios that exist only for a moment in time and once the opportunity has gone, it cannot be revisited. With landscapes and studio shoots, one can revisit. One may get lucky and crack it first time (and, believe me, luck or divine providence can play a huge role in producing something exceptional), but if it means coming back to the same spot a few days in a row to perfect an image – then so be it. If there is a hint of compromise – don’t expect your art to be impacting and compelling. And, even if everyone who has seen your work is bowled over; if you know you could have done better, you will forever have that irritating niggle when you look at the piece. This attitude can be taxing. On the wrong side of 50 years of age and having being involved in the craft for some twenty-four years – I can honestly say I am convinced that only a handful of my images are compelling. Sure, I have captured many memorable moments and above-average images, however if I am honest with myself, only five stand out – in my opinion. The famous reportage photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that if you have taken ten outstanding images in a lifetime, you have done well.

If we look at the master painters of old; Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, JMW Turner, Frederic Church, Constable etc, they are all famously known for a little more than a handful of their works. While they were prolific painters and produced substantial volumes of work (Van Gogh created some 900 works) – they were only renowned for a handful.

Heart of the Andes – Frederic Church
Heart of the Andes – Frederic Church

Likewise with some of the great composers, musicians and movie directors; we will notice a similar trend. While Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, two of the great British rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s created many albums – only a few of these were considered definitive or masterpieces.

Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin IV

I’m not sure if this ‘feel’ can be taught. I have often deliberated on whether to follow the course of many other photographers, by hosting workshops and getaways. In truth, those attending would get far superior instruction on the laws and principles of photography from my more learned and tech savvy colleagues out there.  I think if I did attempt such workshops we would all just end up listening to a bit of Little Feat and Alison Krauss, drinking red wine and smoking Cuban cigars.

Feel and becoming one with your instrument is something one can only develop over time. Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment. A regarded legal mind once said that only after 20 years of practice did he learn to think with penetrating discernment.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to include forums and getaways that focus on developing minds to explore and think deeper ­– to ignite passion that fuels creativity. This exchange of ideas and creative processes would encourage lateral thinking outside the realm of the technical. I understand that the immediacy and convenience of the web facilitates on-line chat forums, but, similar to the revolutionaries of the Parisian art scene in the early 20th century, there is still something more tangible when like-minded people get together. New movements are born and the courage to experiment and make mistakes fosters change.

The saying ‘there are many practitioners, but few masters’ certainly rings true. I suppose that is the way it’s meant to be, otherwise nothing would ever stand out. What also rings true, is that in my particular world of photography, I have some way to go to achieving master status.

It Must be in the Water

It Must be in the Water

A fun, anecdotal account of a recent blues pilgrimage to Kidderminster:

Some six months ago, while having coffee with long-time friend, Andy Scott, my phone rang with the sound of a recently downloaded ringtone. Andy leaned back and nonchalantly uttered, “Super Session, Season of the Witch!” I nearly fell off my chair – no one could know that! Season of the Witch was an eleven-minute, dreamy blues cut on Super Session, an album conceived in 1968 by Al Kooper, in collaboration with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills – definitely not common knowledge, even among some of the more well-informed music collectors.

Donovan wrote it” he said, just to add salt, before singing the chorus, all-the-while strumming to an imaginary black Strat.

After a few hours of enthusiastic exchanges, sharing our views on various musicians, bands and albums, Andy urged me to Google Chicken Shack, a British blues outfit from the mid-sixties, led by frontman and lead guitarist, Stan Webb. I knew of them, but don’t have any of their albums in my collection. Christine Perfect sang with Chicken Shack in her early career years before recording her debut album Christine Perfect (which I have), performing the famous Ellington Jordan song, I’d Rather Go Blind, first recorded by Etta James. She would later join Fleetwood Mac and marry bassist John McVie.

I was weaned, albeit in my twenties, on blues, rock, folk and jazz by good friend Melvyn Goldin. He was a renowned audiophile, having an exhaustive collection of vinyl – some 10 000 albums. Melvyn was passionate about music and photography and took it upon himself to introduce and educate me on what he classified as ‘real music’.

While my other friends were predominantly listening to the new wave/romantic pop bands of the early eighties ­– the likes of Roxette and other disco trance, which was clearly, according to Melvyn, ‘stultifying’ their minds, I found myself being thrust into wicked Zappa guitar solos and the offbeat jazz and funk-infused rock sounds of Steely Dan. Pretzel Logic was an important album, he would insist. Any major dude will tell you! It was crucial, as Melvyn would say, to ingest the isolated instruments and vocals, that only a Nautilus Original Master Recording, on a Goldmund Reference turntable, powered by fan-cooled Conrad-Johnson valve pre-amps, through two metre-high Duntechs – could deliver.

Melvyn would passionately explain that to listen to anything with which I was too familiar, would, again, stultify my mind, and it was critical that I allow him to ‘melt my mind’ with material that I hadn’t yet heard. Often, a request for The Doors was snubbed and the soundscapes created by David Gilmour on his custom Bill Lewis guitar on Dark Side was an immediate riposte.

Now, Andy Scott is a mild-mannered superhero of mine, “cowboys don’t cry” he says, as he edges his way up a steep flight of stairs at the back of the 160 year-old Kidderminster Town Hall just outside Birmingham, to take his balcony-seat. He is a formidable guy with a gusto attitude to life – a ‘Superman’ of sorts.

He is also equally as knowledgeable as Melvyn, on things blues, rock and jazz, but takes it one step further in recounting and singing the lyrics of almost every blues song ever written – unbelievable! And, he can sing! Ronnie Hawkins once said that Howlin’ Wolf’s voice was stronger than “40 acres of crushed garlic”. Well, Andy’s isn’t that far off.

Andy Scott performs at the Blue Bell near Chester with some old friends.
Andy Scott performs at the Blue Bell near Chester with some old friends.

You see, I mailed Andy about a month ago and told him of my upcoming visit to the UK and that I had reserved tickets for Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack in Kidderminster. I had jokingly said that I hadn’t intended to make him jealous, and that the Stan Webb he had told me about earlier this year was playing over the last weekend of June, and I had booked two tickets – just in case. Well, Andy would have none of it; he would be visiting his daughter in London over that weekend. So, in short-hand, I picked him up at the station in Uxbridge, drove 3 hours to Kidderminster (GPS wasn’t working…..ffs!) and experienced first-hand, the wizardry of a legendary British blues icon, in an intimate setting. This hall has history – Winston Churchill, a young Robert Plant and a fledgling Rolling Stones have all delivered performances here.

Stan Webb shreds in his opening number – The Thrill is Gone
Stan Webb shreds in his opening number – The Thrill is Gone

 

Having played in the British blues scene for some 50 years, the venerable Stan Webb continues to perform with the passion and Joie de vivre that has been his trademark. His voice may have lost its start-up sound of a Maserati GranTurismo, but, he sure can hold ‘em notes. I don’t believe many of these gifted artists ever play for the crowds – they love it so much and it matters little whether there is an audience in attendance or not. Just look at Neil Young and Stevie Ray Vaughn as examples – they are so consumed with their craft. Sure, the likes of Plant, Jagger, Townsend and Bowie have their alter egos and stage personas, but, I do believe these cats enter into a different space when performing. It’s what separates them from the average. Daniel Day-Lewis, similarly, in his method-acting performances, is never seen as himself… the exceptional is rare indeed!

 

So, come midnight, after an intense evening of British R&B, Andy and I realized that we hadn’t yet booked a hotel… “So what!” I said, with the cavernous echos of my childhood friends reverberating in my head…”irresponsible!” And, in more recent times, “last-minute.com!” It’s oftentimes the best way to travel though. After two hours of being catapulted out of the ubiquitous English roundabouts, we found accommodation in Redditch, some 15 miles from the Kidderminster Hall.

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I would later drop Andy off to be with his wife and daughter in Greenwich. We both knew that we had ticked-off an experience that could warrant inclusion on any music aficianado’s bucket-list. And, isn’t that just one of the many reasons for living? To enrich one’s life through great experiences that nourish the soul – that add value.

Curiously, Kidderminster and greater Birmingham have produced some interesting musicians and bands – Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, Traffic (Steve Winwood), UB40, Duran Duran, ELO, Dexys Midnight Runners and Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason – to name a few.

So, there may be something in the water after all.

‘Real music’, as Melvyn once referred, is an acquired taste. Robbie Robertson, in his lyrics from Somewhere Down the Crazy River said it best;

Wait, did you hear that

Oh this is sure stirring up some ghosts for me

She said “There’s one thing you’ve got to learn

Is not to be afraid of it.”

I said “No, I like it, I like it, it’s good.”

She said “You like it now

But you’ll learn to love it later.”