First Concert in over Twenty Years

Dear Reader, I may have mentioned before in previous articles that for my many sins, and to curb my pride, I am a musician, and some might even go further still, and remind me I am a horn player.  As a musician, we can have a tendency to “do” concerts and play in them, rather than going along as a listener.  I mean, of course, that we listen to our fellow musicians, especially when playing that music together.  It is a team effort, after all.  But not as a spectator.

Little did I know that when I went to taste some homemade beer at my friend Hervé’s house, he would invite me to take some photos of a concert he was playing in, on the 18th of June.  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity.  An evening of taking photos and getting to listen to live music at the same time?  What a way to spend the hottest day of the year so far!

We were rehearsing together the following Friday, and he said to be at his house at such-and-such a time, and that I should just park up in the driveway.  There would also be my old and very much revered horn teacher, as in my previous horn teacher, and not my old new horn teacher, nor a teacher that is old despite his great wisdom.  But that is a story for another day.  Hervé was going to drive us to the concert.  Jérôme, my very much revered horn teacher, plays in the same ensemble as Hervé.  They are members of the Brass Quintet Arabesque, made up of instrument teachers from across my particular region of France. 

So, I got into the car, turned on the ignition, saw the temperature, and promptly melted. 44°C! For those who only work in Fahrenheit, body temperature is 37°C, and 44°C is 111°F. My point exactly. By the time I reached Hervé’s house, it was a mere 40°C. A tad warm, even for me!

I drove up, parked, saw my horn teacher in very summery attire, but always with a hat, saunter up, and Smaug, the family Labrador, who you remember from my last article, who does not know what sauntering is about, just ran around the car three times and jumped up to say hello, being as friendly as ever. Bless him! We quickly went inside into the shade and cool. I do like a bit of cool from time to time.

We eventually got all the kit together in the car, thanks again Hervé for doing all the driving, and set off. The way to Guérande isn’t very complicated, and it’s pretty plain sailing. We talked about everything and nothing, about my presence at the Wind Band next year, and what alternatives I could think of, about the photoshoot from the previous week, about the various instruments and would we change instrument, how much it might cost to change, and what newer instruments could bring to the table, or should I say rehearsal room…

Parking in Guérande was a doddle, and we headed to the Collégiale, or church inside the medieval walls. We dropped everything off in the church, and things suddenly became very serious. Where would we eat? The first place we tried, a creperie, was no longer serving food, so we headed to Plan B. Plan B was fully booked, but was able to fit us in. Five brass musicians, one organist, and yours truly. Luckily I don’t seem to take up much space. Simon said he had to go and shave and came back with blood on his face. Michel, the organist that would be playing with the quintet, told us that the organ in that building needed a makeover and was basically shite. Out of tune, and half of it didn’t work. That’s something you don’t really want to hear when you don’t have a huge amount of time to have the pre-concert setup and run through. Another thing you don’t want to hear is that you’re all going to have to tune your instruments up to 444hz. This basically means you’re all fecked because your instruments have been in slightly warm cars. After all, it’s boiling outside and you’ll just never make it. The brass expands in the heat and therefore will sound flatter, and at 444hz you really need to be on the sharper side. It’s a bit like me trying to walk past a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea; it’s just not going to happen… Luckily the food arrived, as did the beers, and the puds. We were happy. I had all my camera gear, and most importantly plenty of batteries in case the batteries inside the cameras gave up the will to live. Some lovely shots were begging to be taken outside the church.

What I didn’t have, especially inside the church, was a whole lot of light. For photography, light is quite important. Understatement of the year contender again… This was going to be interesting. I had been fed by Arabesque, and now there was bugger all light inside, so photography was going to be a tad tricky.

Luckily, somebody turned on the lights and I was saved. Who said miracles never happen in the Catholic Church? They did this evening. The only photos I could take were before the concert actually began because afterwards the church would fall into darkness as there was going to be drone footage shown on a screen behind the Quintet as they played, showing the church in which they were playing. This was the main idea behind the concert. Through music and film, show people the church they were in from a slightly different viewpoint. It was great just to sit and take in the music. And take in the music I did. I was always told the importance of concert-going to musicians and how it helps us develop musically in so many ways. I only had to make an effort to sit there, make no noise, and just listen and be captivated. And captivated I was! I thought the tuning was fine and not at all the catastrophe announced by the organist. But I was just here to listen to some quality sounds and not to be a critic from the Times

The first half finished with the Toccata by Charles Marie Widor from his Organ symphony number 5. Any pedal notes that were missing from the organ were amply covered by the bass notes of the tuba that seem to just go right through you. It’s also a piece of music that has, amongst others, the ability to make my eye become all watery with emotion. I’ll leave it here for you to listen to.

The interval arrived. I say that but it didn’t really make an entrance. It just happened. The public was invited to walk around the church and rediscover images from the film in real life. They could also purchase CDs of the Quintet. 10€ each, or 20€ for three. They could also subscribe and have a CD of the programme, as well as make a contribution to the Association Résonnance, who gave their name to the entire project. It also meant that I could take more ambience photos and not be in anybody’s way.

Up until then, I had been using the Canon 6D Mark II which makes a tremendous noise when the mirror moves up to expose the sensor. I was worried that I would disturb everyone and switched to the comparatively silent Fuji XT2 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, which is a 24-70mm full-frame equivalent, so a good all-rounder for reportage. During the second half, I could be seen trying to move silently the way Corporal McCune taught me to so as not to disturb my fellow concertgoers.

The second half started with the horn and trombone playing a one thousand-year-old tune for the Easter celebration. Unfortunately, the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the second half had just started and some were still talking! As soon as the other musicians appear and Hervé started introducing the next piece, they seemed to get the message and promptly shut up! They lead us through time through the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic periods. They ended up with Aaron Copland, and music from Grover’s Corner, whoever Grover was. I suspect it wasn’t the same Grover that lives on Sesame Street…

After the concert, we did the official group photo, and eventually said good night and see back at Hervé’s house. It was midnight, much cooler, windy, and felt as if a storm was on the way. Jérôme fell asleep in the back, and Hervé and I just chilled, talking about this very blog and photography, especially the differences between being a good amateur photographer, and a professional photographer and how the two are completely different, in the same way, that I quickly realised when doing my music studies here in France. You have to produce consistently good results, and the pressure is on. They were already doing the concert debrief about everything that went wrong. I tried to reassure them that it wasn’t a competition and that as an audience member, I had a great time. Basically, the same things that I had been taught by Jérôme. If the audience is happy, then the audience is happy.

On the way home, we saw the sky fill up with lightning and thunder. It felt magical, and also the temperature had halved. It was a mere 22°C. It felt wonderful. We got home first and had a beer whilst waiting for the others to arrive. The others arrived and there was still some English beer for them, and some homemade beer too. It received the seal of approval from everyone present. We ended saying what went wrong with the concert and how it was a learning experience. I still thought it was brilliant. So there!!

All I have to do is the photo editing…

The Phenomenon that is Johan de Meij

For my many sins, I am a musician and not just a depressive dude with a camera.  I play the French horn.  Some might even say that I’m a French French horn player, without being corrected by my autocorrect.  So this music thing…  I play the horn in a Wind Band, in Cholet, in the Anjou region of France, with good food and wine.  I wonder what decided me to join them…  There are a series of concerts every year with each concert having a given theme.  This next concert’s theme is about the planets.  The programme will be The Planets, by Gustav Holst, and the third Symphony by Johan de Meij, Planet Earth.

If you want to read Wikipedia to tell you about the Planets by Holst, then you can click here.  I will now give you my version of events.  Gustav Holst, a man with Swedish, German, and Latvian origins but born in England, wrote a series of pieces that made up the Planets Suite.  His ancestors must have settled before Brexit!  This was ground-breaking stuff, akin to Stravinsky and his Rites of Spring.  However, this program is about the planets, so we’ll leave Spring to Igor, the composer and not Frankenstein’s whacky assistant.  As any trailblazer will tell, they just weren’t ready for it man, and that it was ahead of its time, which to be fair, it was.  He started writing the suite in 1914, and the first movement was “Mars, the bringer of War.”  Quite eerie when you think about what happened in 1914.  Composing finished in 1917 and the première took place at Queen’s Hall, on the 29th of September, in 1918.  There were seven movements, and when I was a child, I always wondered why the planet Pluto wasn’t included.  What did they have against Mickey Mouse’s dog???  Then I learnt Pluto was only discovered in 1930.  The poor planet was demoted in 2006 and is no longer considered a planet but is still a heavenly body…  Just like Yours Truly!

This music that first disturbed people, has, over time, and thanks to John Williams, become the music of space and the stars, wars or no wars.  Some have accused John Williams of nicking everything in the first movement, Mars the bringer of War, and using it to compose the music to Star Wars.  I’m not saying he nicked it, but… A nice American gentleman, Charles Cornell, has exposed his point of view in a YouTube video 

When you look at it like that you can get where those people are coming from.  But in a completely nonpartial way, I couldn’t give a flying fart.  Both composers’ music is wonderful, and I think one could call it more homage than pilfering. Mind you, there are certain similarities.

When you look at the Planets Suite, you notice the Earth isn’t mentioned.  One person that noticed this and who could do something about it, is a certain Johan de Meij, whose name is engraved on a plaque on our rehearsal room in the Cholet Conservatoire.  A Dutch trombonist, he moved into composition, arranging, and conducting.  In the Wind Band world, he is very well known and respected.  Nearly all of us will have played some of his music at one stage in our careers.

The third Symphony takes us from the beginning of our Lonely Planet, Planet Earth, ending with Mother Earth.  It isn’t as much a narrative, but a more auditory exposition of ideas in an abstract form.  A soundtrack with electronic sounds helps the symphony become one musical experience as opposed to the classical three separate movements.  Planet Earth really is a continuation of Holst’s Planets.

It’s a whopping significant piece and a joy to play despite a few difficulties to challenge the horn player.  We were very fortunate to have Johan come and visit us, not just to say Hallo, but to explain the piece to us, conduct us and rehearse us.  The poor lad was full of cold, but shared his wisdom and experience with us, which I’m sure will prove itself invaluable for our performance on the 14th of November in the Théâtre Saint Louis in Cholet.  We worked on aural skills listening to the chords and listening to them to adjust the tuning and seeing where we fit into those chords. It might be an insignificant detail to you, but the seats are very comfortable and the acoustics are pretty damned good too!.  Holst couldn’t make it. Must have had something else in his diary for that weekend! 

The Olympus Trip 35

After the success of my review of the Fuji Film X100F, I thought I might have to present another camera to you.  For the non-techy of you, don’t worry, this camera is a doddle to use, and my daughter was using it when she was a seven year old!  It won’t get complicated. 

I wanted to use a film camera to do it.   I will presume that you have no experience of using a film or vintage cameras also, so Millennial friendly, and after a certain age, you will be meeting an old friend.  I would like to introduce you to the Olympus Trip 35.

As the name might suggest the Olympus Trip was a camera designed for travel photography and for the mass market in the 1960s and 1970s (production stopped in 1988).  A point and shoot.  No gimmicks.  Although this is not a style or fashion blog, this camera is a beautiful object, and if you thought you had people coming up to you and telling you how sexy your camera was with the X100F, then you’ll get even more people coming up to you telling you how gorgeous your camera is.  It is one of those timeless cameras that just oozes sex appeal.  I replaced the original wrist strap with a more chunky and comfortable version from Amazon.

There are some things that you will not be able to do with this camera.  You won’t be able to add another lens.  You get a 40mm Zuiko F 2.8, however the 40mm focal length will have you covered for the majority of situations for your photographic trip, and also gives beautiful results, especially with modern emulsions!.  Just look at the X100F photos and it will be self evident.  You won’t have all the modern conveniences of a Modern DSLR or even mirrorless camera, but you won’t have any problems with batteries.  There aren’t any.  The power for the metering comes from the selenium cell (which contrary to appearances isn’t a New Romantic group from the 1980’s).  You will have get film for it.  It take film from ISO (or ASA) 25 to 400 which, for when you’re on the road is fine, and will cover most eventualities.

Loading film is so simple that a child of seven could do it, and my child, when seven years old did it easily.  Then basically, you’re ready.  Off you go and explore.  I haven’t talked about how to focus the camera.  So….  The camera uses the principle of zone focussing.  You turn the lens and you will see a face, a couple, a group of people, and then a mountain.  If you turn the camera around so the top is the bottom, and the bottom the top (Pride reference, even if I am slightly late), you will see the distances marked out: 1m, 1m50, and 3m to infinity, but not beyond.  We’re talking photography, and not a film based on Ants, or Seven Samurai.

There are two shutter speeds, 1/200th of a second and 1/40th and the camera chooses which one it uses.  But 1/40th with a 40mm lens shouldn’t give camera shake.  So you can cover light from F22 at 1/200th of a second to F2.8 at 1/40th of a second.  You will see an F stop dial on the camera, and that you will see in the viewfinder.  When not using a flash, just put it to A (automatic).  If ever there is not enough light, there is a little red flag that pops up into the viewfinder, and the camera shutter won’t fire.  It’s idiot proof!

I will include a video from YouTube to show you how to load the film as it will be easier than describing to you in written language.   

So get out there and start taking some photos!  Go on the streets.  Go on a Trip.  Just get out there and start using it.  Have fun and share photos if you want!  Mine are from a trip to Portugal and the Canary Islands from 2016 taken on Ilford HP5 Plus.  Make of them what you will…

It pays to be a winner

At school I wasn’t a winner.  Not really.  There was one time at prep school when I won the First form prize, which was a book about birds.  I still have it! I once entered a competition to win a first day cover of stamps featuring various fish native to British rivers, and won the first day cover as well as postcards of the stamps.  I wasn’t a great sportsman, something which seems to have followed me through my life and therefore didn’t have the chance to win a cap for my school.  Whilst I used to wear green for a living, I would often hear the phrase, “It pays to be a winner gentleman,” being yelled by certain junior NCO’s.  I was of course never that winner, so would have to repeat the exercise with all the other losers.

You get used to being a loser.  In certain respects, it’s great because you don’t have to bother yourself with that maternal ambition that was imposed on you.  It lowers your expectations and you get used to accepting your fate in life.   You ramble along, as you may have seen and read Dear Reader, I am a rambler.  I was fine with that.

Then of course I moved to France.  Try being English in France.  Then again maybe don’t.  It’s worse than being French in the UK.  They lost WW2, yet celebrate VE Day every 8th May.  Oh sweet Caroline, I mean irony!  But that’s fine.  It’s in their mind-set of being the inheritors of the Glory of France.  Then the bastards went and won the World Cup in 1998.  They are ghastly when victorious, and I remember saying to myself, they’re going to talk about this for 20 years…  20 years came and went, and they only went and won the bloody thing a second time!!!

Whenever they beat us at rugby, I am inundated with mentions of how great they are, and yet when we beat them, I am allowed to remain silent and hide in my office!  This losing does have a tendency to teach you about humility.

Now I will talk about the B word, yes, Brexit.  As I may have let slip, I am a remainer, and therefore “lost” the vote in 2016.  Since that time, my life here in France has been in suspended animation, suspended rather than animated.  My future was dependant on a “deal”.  Then Boris came along.  I was going to be buggered one more time, yet despite the odds, we “won” an agreement that would allow me to stay here.  But knowing the French, nothing was certain.  That uncertainty doesn’t help a guy’s mental health and Brexit has taken it’s toll on me.  But less of the grumbling. 

On the 22nd June, 2021, I receive an email from the prefecture telling me to come and see them on the 9th July, with this mail, my old carte de séjour, my residency card, which allowed me to remain in France, and will allow me to remain further.  I arrived here in France on the 9th of July 1994, to start the rest of my life.  I got that mail, read it, and had tears welling up.  For the first time in 5 years, I was turning into a winner.

That week I entered a competition on Instagram.  One of those things where you win a basket full of samples from a shop, and you have to like the post, post the names of two people on the comments, and they will announce the winner in a story.  This was for a shop that sold CBD products and I thought why the hell not.   Well when the story came out announcing the winner you’ll never guess who won.  Yes me!!!  So for a perpetual loser like me, this was amazing.  I was high on the positive vibes.  Things are calmer at home and at work, and I have less pain in my arthritic knee.  Maybe it does pay to be a winner after all. 

I am not a fan of Shadenfreude, except when France is the cause of it.  In the Euro 2020 competition, happening in 2021 because of Covid, no winners there really, France was knocked out of the tournament by Switzerland. I haven’t said a word about it at work.  Wouldn’t be cricket after all.  Oh and we beat Sri Lanka in the Cricket too!  On Tuesday night there was the fateful match, between Germany and England, and I don’t want to hear anything about two world wars and on world cup!!  Even though…. We beat them, for this first time in a tournament in the knock out stages since 1966 when we beat them in the world cup…  The English side of me was very happy, and yet I have been gracious in victory and not mentioned it at work to my French colleagues despite the desperate urge to do so.  Even if I were to mention it, it would be wasted on them and wouldn’t be cricket!  Damn you gracious VICTORY!

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….

 

Happy birthday Gilet Jaunes

I’m writing this in a theatre before the tune up begins in about half an hour’s time. I was thinking back to yesterday and going out to Nantes to take a couple of photos.

I was in a foul mood on Friday; a colleague who was a nice bloke and all round good egg has just resigned and Friday was his last day. Plans have been put in place to find an “interim” solution which means more work for me and somebody else doing the forklift work. I’m not sure it will work as well. Anyway! That’s my problem and not yours, but explains why I needed to get out and do some photography.

Some of you might have heard of the Gilet Jaune movement or Yellow Vest movement in English. It was responsible for a few demonstrations that gradually became part of every day life in France. I had forgotten that yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the movement. They hadn’t, and neither had the police.

As I came into town I could see a whole load of police vans parked up in front of the castle. I thought that for a sightseeing trip it was a bit strange. I parked the car in the underground carpark and as I came out onto the street I did what I always do. I check my camera settings and take my first couple of photos.

It was foggy that day and I could see people heading towards me. They were crying. The fog gave some lovely photos. Very atmospheric. Lkke having a smoke machine on a film set. And then I started crying. The emotion of it all? No. Tear gas.

I’d seen worse, and a very nice young lady gave me some water to rinse my eyes. You see, the president has brought the population together but maybe not in the way he hoped.

It must have been around 17h. I had to be at mass for 18h on the other side of the Cours des 50 Hotages. The only problem was the police and demonstrators had decided to play silly buggers and take the mickey out of each other. More gas. I asked one of the policeman dressed in a rather fetching black number did he think it was possible to cross the road and be in time for mass… He thought it would be possible. That bloody chicken never had any problems crossing the road.

I eventually crossed the road and started talking to a couple of Turkish guys. They said what a very well mannered and elegant demonstration it was. Well, this is France after all. But that the riot police looked pretty hardcore, which in all fairness is true! The demonstrators moved forward. As did the police. Then the police put the smoke machine back on.

I dragged myself off to mass and it was lovely until a guy, either drunk, or high, or both came in. Strangely enough I was more enraged by the fact that he hadn’t taken his hat off. I left my seat, genuflected, and gave him my arm as we walked down the aisle. It must have been a really pretty picture of the happy couple. People looked on with relief as they didn’t have to do the dirty work.

I opened the door and told him to sober up first and then it might be possible to talk and not to interrupt the people at prayer. As I came back in there was a man who said thank you, as there a four doors to the church and how he can only cover two doors at a time. He thanked me and my new friend tried to come back in. I marched him out gently again. At the end of mass I saw the gentleman who had thanked me. Apparently our friend had come in three times by different doors. Never dull in ‘Ull, or Nantes either.

Mass finished and I headed towards the pub to say hello to everyone and get a bite to eat before going home. The car was parked nearby too and that’s the only excuse you’re getting!

The photos for the day were taken with the Canon 6D Mark ii and the vintage lens Pentacon 50mm f1.8. The older lenses give you a different feel and effect. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to comment…