Bike Posters

The other day I saw a random photo on twitter and it was of a bike with a bottle of pimms slung under the top tube which made me chuckle – my sort of cyclist I thought to myself.  The photo had originated from Mark Fairhurst (@MrMarkFairhurst) so I started following and then noticed that into my timeline would drop some lovely cycling images.  Delving a bit further Mark is an artist/photographer who runs zeitgeist images  producing beautiful classical pictures based around the theme of motion.  Of course the humble bicycle lends itself to this theme as a perfect fit and Mark has got a range of fantastic images that he has created.  What appeals to me about them is the whole 1920’s/30’s aesthetic which on the one hand harps back to a more innocent and chivalrous time but the content is also bang up to date – check out the image Shame below.  The nod to the sunflower drenched images of the tour is also poignantly reflected in the poppies for remembrance day.  I really like them and I’d have thought they would make the perfect gift for the cyclist in your life.

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Sunday

Moscow Music (Balalaikas not included)

 

 

Even though it was a school night, I allowed myself to be persuaded into going to a gig last Thursday in the centre of Moscow. It was a new experience for me, going to see a band I’d never heard of, let alone heard a track from before. Of course my friend insisted they were brilliant, but then think how many people have been tricked by that line before- must happen week after week to get any sort of crowd inside Goodison Park.
The band’s Russian name is Краснознаменная дивизия имени моей бабушки, though for the English speaker they abbreviate themselves down to KDIMB since something about the division of a red grandmother doesn’t sound quite so catchy to us.
As soon as they came pouring onstage clutching a shop’s worth of instruments, I started to draw resemblances to the Arcade Fire, and it didn’t stop at the length of the line up.

The front woman and songwriter are married, and she has enough charisma and stage presence to take them to another level. Coming on like a cross between Regina Spektor and Karen O, it wasn’t only her voice, but the way she held the audience between songs with her banter too. (Unfortunately my friend couldn’t translate quick enough, but everyone else found it amusing).

It transpired the band themselves were also wary of their Arcade Fire tag, for their encore was a song for which there is an acoustic version of below entitled- Let Me Go, a tongue in cheek reference to the Canadian’s- No Cars Go.
It was one of the highlights, for when they harnessed their collective powers and threw everything into the pot that they were pretty magical and deserving of the weighty comparison. Their opener was apparently just their sound check, but it was a piece that deserves a much vaster audience, driven by the rhythm section and ending in a cataclysmic pile up five minutes later, sharing that same slow/quick dynamic the middle section of Funeral carries with it.

I don’t think they’ll be playing the UK anytime soon, but I will certainly be venturing out on more recommendations and spur of the moment fancies, as it seems Moscow holds hidden gems I wasn’t expecting.

 

 

Bike Songs

So I had a bit of a High Fidelity moment the other day, possibly inspired by the fantastic Leeds PlayList blog and wondered about merging two of my favourite things, bikes and music to come up with a Top Ten of Bike Songs.  There were some obvious ones that jumped straight out eg Queens double A side, Bicycle Race / Fat Bottomed Girls or you could think about the play on words for example The Pretenders Back on the Chain Gang or what about bike bands for example BMX Bandits, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Spokes.

I went in the end for songs about or featuring bicycles which all of my top 10 do in one way or another.  The odd one out is Bat for Lashes but it had to go in and I think you’ll understand when you have a look at the video.  There were stacks that missed out and thanks to those of you on twitter who suggested actual songs or play on word songs – they may form another post at some point.  I was tempted to go for 11 songs to squeeze in Pedal Your Blues Away by R Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders but in the spirit of Rob Gordon I wanted to come up with the definitive list.

Do let me know what you think – what would you have put in ?

10. Kraftwerk – Tour De France

9. Fyfe Dangerfield – Firebird

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Bicycle Song

7. Mark Ronson – The Bike Song

6. Tom Waits – Broken Bicycles

5. Matthew Price – Freedom Machine

4. Coco Love Alcorn – I Got a Bicycle

3. Bat for Lashes – What’s a Girl to Do

2. The Vaselines – Rory Ride me Raw

1. The Decemberists – Apology Song

Packaging Design

Packaging Design is one of those things to the non design geek probably doesn’t even register. It just exists and in some ways for it not to be noticed or talked about is a measure of success. Design in all its forms should be the perfect combination of form and function and do its job properly.

In some circles un-flashy, workmanlike design is highly regarded and in others, a more ostentatious approach is applauded. My view encompasses both schools of thought as long as ultimately it does its job. Packaging design is a very narrow discipline where the container of a product has to house it safely and protect it from harm in an efficient and cost-effective way bearing in mind the box is the supporting act not the star. In some cases it helps to sell the product or reinforce the brand and remind the purchaser that they made the right decision to buy this product.

As you would expect, Apple are masters in the packaging design world, but I’ve not picked them out on this occasion. I came across some beautifully simple and elegant packaging design for John lewis recently and really wanted to talk about how it was aesthetically lovely it was – but also how it reinforced my notions about the brand and made me want to buy some of the products, it looked that good.

Magna

I love Magna and have been going back on a fairly regular basis over the last few years and paid another visit yesterday.  I never cease to be amazed by the imagination that decided to covert a massive steel plant on the Sheffield / Rotherham border into a science adventure centre that looks into the essential elements behind the creation of steel.  That in itself showed ambition but to keep much of the industrial structure in place and to create within the giant building 4 separate zones for Fire, Air, Water and Earth that are brilliantly designed was vision of the highest order.  Ignoring the learning for a second it’s an architectural wonder and is no surprise that it won a RIBA award back when it was first created.

Unlike many places you visit as well it’s atmosphere is incredibly different.  For starters it’s cold, no attempt is made to heat the enormous structure so you need to go wrapped up and it’s dark, incredibly so which is so different from any other “museum” that I can think of.  Each zone is in a different pod linked by gorgeous steel walkways that are seemingly suspended in the air, with different lighting guiding the way, but around you everything else is very dark but with large hooks and gangplanks etc left over from it’s industrial heyday appearing out of the gloom making for a very otherwordly and somewhat ghostly feeling as the steel plant still echoes back to it’s glory days when it broke the world record for steel production.

Each zone is a little wonder in it’s own right but Air takes the biscuit as it appears to be a suspended blimp some 60 feet or so in the air reached by a lift that when you first walk into the atrium in front of the lifts crackles with electricity that is set off by your movement, making the unaware jump.  Fire is reached along a walkway past the furnaces that replicate what happened as steel was produced with sparks shooting into the inky blackness.  Once inside the fire zone the most amazing sight is the fire tornado which no matter how many times I’ve seen it still mesmerizes.  Water is full of get your hands wet fun while down in Earth little and big kids alike get to operate a full size JCB.  Every zone is full of hands on fun (although some could do with some updating and maintenance as quite a few were not working yesterday).

All of the inside is incredible but it is matched (if you have kids) by the best adventure playground you could hope for which provides a fantastic space for kids from little ones through to early teen.  The cost of going to Magna used to put me off a bit but the pricing policy has changed in recent years so it’s £36 for a family of 4 for the year – cracking value I’d say.

Yes I’d much rather it was still producing steel, and in fact several years ago it was strange to take my dad who had visited often when it was a working plant as the company he worked for supplied them with valves, but if it can’t produce steel then it helps to tell the story, both of steel production but also the people who made it all inside an architectural wonder that uses the structure of it’s industrial past to create an amazing space for the future.

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American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman cut his writing teeth in the graphic novel genre with landmark books like The Sandman, before turning his attention to ‘serious’ literature ie books without pictures in. American Gods – his first ‘proper book’ had been suggested a few times previously in book club and eventually it popped onto the table and stuck.

And I’m really glad it did.

It’s worth highlighting that this book is massive in a couple of ways. Firstly it’s around 600 pages (which would normally have us running for the hills) and secondly the scale and sweep of the storytelling is metaphorically huge.

American Gods is based around an elegantly simple and highly original premise that the global diaspora that gravitated to America over the last 200 years all brought their gods with them. These gods became as much a part of the birth and growth of the United States of America as the people did. Then, as generations passed, these traditional gods became more and more marginalised and discarded when ultimately new gods took their place – gods of television, machinery and the internet.

What an idea.

These forgotten gods then continued to live amongst men, as men, forlorn and desperate to find relevance in a world that has moved on. The Norse gods loom large and are central to the development of the narrative leading to the perhaps inevitable battle between good and evil. As the story unfolds, we encounter all manner of mythical beings –  from ancient Egyptian gods to Irish leprechauns. It sounds bizarre and it is.

Gaiman’s visual style of writing suits this subject matter beautifully and he brings alive the characters in vivid detail. If you were to pigeonhole this book it would be in the fantasy horror genre but to do so would be a huge disservice to the ambition of the author. It’s more than a cult title for geeks – it delivers brilliantly original storytelling to a wider audience.

Shadow  – the enigmatic blank canvas of a central character around which Gaiman constructs this otherworldly book. I was frustrated that he didn’t build him out further but the point was made in the book club that perhaps that was the author’s intention to create a central character that was almost a cipher. I’m not sure I buy that 100% but you know what, I forgive him as the rest of the book is so engaging.

I have to say I consumed this book eagerly, each page urging me on although at times this ‘author’s edition’ of the book felt a little indulgent but that’s a minor quibble for me. All in all this is a fantastically satisfying book and I was not surprised to learn that a HBO style TV series is planned. American Gods is tailor made for adaptation as it’s bang in the sweet spot of the cool genre of high production sci fi horror like True Blood, Dexter, Walking Dead and Heroes. If you like them, you’ll love this.

Highly recommended. 9 out of 10.