La Générale

La Générale refers to a French dress rehearsal before a show or concert but with no senior military officer in sight.  But why am I talking about a rehearsal?  Well, as some of you Dear Readers might know that for my many sins, I am a horn player and musician.  Both can happen simultaneously, despite our reputation! From February 2009 until July 2022, I played the horn for the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet in France.  Some people had cottoned onto the fact that I dabble in this photography lark, and since they had just changed musical direction, they would like me to take some photos of the new director in front of the band.  I of course said yes, and following the lessons learnt during the American Concert, I was feeling quietly confident.

The musicians were asked to attend the Générale in concert dress, all looking very smart.  This would allow me to wander around the stage freely, not annoy the audience, and have complete freedom to try to take a couple of photos.  What a good idea!  It also meant that I had two hours to get the job done in a satisfactory manner.

I had the Canon 6D Mark II with the 85mm F1.8 Canon lens, and the trusty and also favourite, almost to the point of it being a fetish, Fuji Film X100F, with the telephoto adapter which transforms the lens into a 50mm F 2.0 lens.  I could take off that adapter and have 35mm equivalent lens.  To the uninitiated, you will think I have just spouted out a huge amount of gobbledy gook, but I it actually means something to me.  It was out of the question that I would miss 60 photos like last time.  A lesson most definitely learnt!

Sooooo…  I wandered around taking photos and trying to make sure I didn’t just photograph the horn section.  Nobody couldn’t accuse me of favouritism;  except that I had treated some images first for friends and had posted them on Facebook.  Two of those friends were, of course, in the Horn Section.  Ooooops a daisy.  Ah well.  I did, however, tell everyone that these were merely a foretaste of things to come, and I realised I had actually been quite democratic and represented most of the musicians.  Out of the 400 odd photos taken, 124 were presented to the musicians in a private Google Gallery.  Not bad for two hours of shooting.    You will see a small selection of those photos at the end of this article.

As a thank you, I was invited to the concert the next day.  After a Barber appointment to tame my overgrown beard and a visit to the pub just to say hello to the staff and friends, I headed off to Cholet for my Rendez Vous with music listening.  Keep music live etc!! 

Naturally, with the change of conductor, there will be a change of musical direction.  Each person had to get used to the novelty, and the new conductor has to make his mark on the orchestra, which is perfectly normal.  I had heard all kinds of things and wanted to make up my own mind.  The concert theme was “Heart of the Forest.”  I was determined to take it all in with no preconceived ideas.  Just enjoy the bloody music, you fool.  So I sat down and did just that.  The sound at the back of the auditorium differed completely from what I had heard the night before.  As a musician, we hear the concert from where we are on the stage.  The audience really hears that difference.  I was blown away and just sat there enjoying watching my friends create music.

With time, the orchestra and the new musical director will get to know each other, and I look forward to seeing their next concert and seeing the outcome of this new relationship in future concerts, and it goes without saying that I wish them the very best of success for the future! 

Now for the photos, and not just the horn section…

The American Concert

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”  I, like most people, used to think that this was pure Shakespeare.  Well, it is not; it is actually from the play “The Mourning Bride” by William Cosgrove, which was first performed in 1697.  No, I cannot be having you say that you learn nothing from this blog, right?

So you get a free fact of the day.  First, I don’t have breasts, but man boobs, and second, they’re not savage either!  Trust me! As suggested in the title, this article is about a concert, and surprisingly the music was American, hence the name of the American Concert.  Mind-blowing I know, right?

Now I can hear you saying this blog is about this man’s depression and photography, and possibly tea and cake.  Give me some time and I’ll get there.  My mental health is on the melancholic side due to rain, and teenagers at home, but it will get better. 

My friend Hervé, who has already starred twice on my blog, is part of a Brass Quintet called Arabesque who have only been mentioned once on my blog.  This lovely chap asked if I wanted to take some photos of their American Concert and I, of course, said yes, that would be great fun! They are revamping their website and wanted some photographs for it and after the success of the last shoot I did for them, they asked me to come back. 

This would be the first concert I would photograph with stage lights.  And when you photograph a concert, you have to get it right and not mess it up.  I, of course, messed quite a few photos up, but it’s all a learning process, isn’t it?  “They” said to use your fastest lenses, which is photographer lingo saying that you need the lens to have the widest opening possible to let in the most light and still have a relatively quick shutter speed.  “They” seem to give out some good advice so I took my very fastest lens, an f1.2 35mm lens for my XT2 and because it has focus peaking, you can’t go wrong.  That’s what “they” said.  I proved “them” wrong and wasted about 60 photos.  That’ll teach me to listen to “them!”  

Fortunately, I had my Plan B (Canon 6D MarkII) with me, which worked a treat.  What did I learn from this precarious situation?  First, I was the only one who knew that I had messed up.  Second, the importance of having a Plan B.  Thirdly, using both cameras and thus still getting the shot, and fourthly that using a manual lens usually provides no worries during the day, but autofocus can be quite a good friend, especially for a concert.  No need to be a purist.  You can save that for later.  What you need is to get the job done.  So leave your pride at home and get some decent photos. 

The entire show was splendid, and the music was first class too!  If you have time to see Arabesque in concert you’ll definitely enjoy yourself, and you’ll be supporting live music and a great bunch of guys too!  I would also like to thank them for the restaurant meal after the concert.  What a delightful way to spend an evening!

Hepple for Photos not Gin

Hepple. Even just saying it gives me a certain sensation of pleasure. Heh-pull. It just rolls of the tongue, and the pull sound at the end is tension that is let out and offers some relief. A bit like a fart, but less smelly. Amis de la poésie, bonsoir!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Alnmouth but I like to get out into the country when I visit my parents. You drive into Alnwick, and then through the town past the TA base going up towards Rothbury and the on to Otterburn where the Army likes to play soldiers with live ammo and you are warned not to go onto the land otherwise you might go boom. Going boom is not a nice thing to do and should he avoided at all costs unless you really do want to go out with a bang.

You go past Cragside which as a family we have visited before, in the sun and the rain. It was one Summer and it was raining all bloody week and my mother said we should go out to Cragside and have fun going through the maze on the hills around the very stately home. It was a great idea, except for the fact that it had been raining like a cow taking a piss, and the whole place was waterlogged and we were all wearing crocs (other more suitable footwear from other brands do exist) and that other footwear would have been most welcome. We arrived back at my parents house soaked and a little pissed off. Oh the joys of family holidays during the British summer.

I digress. Je diverge, et parfois je dis bite!

Anyway, you go past Cragside and you will eventually end up at Hepple. I tend to go through the village and park up on the verge after the bridge. You can’t miss it, and if you do miss it the you are on the wrong road.

I have this stupid idea in my head that if I watch enough YouTube and try and learn ever more about photography from the various videos watched, and learn to leave my comfort zone and try new things, then I might discover something new and find out something that I might not even suspect possible. Yes it was one of those kinds of days… I should have known.

I was in the car with my camera and my father for this trip out. For some reason or other, fate had thrown us together and I had missed having sandwiches for lunch at parent’s house and still can’t remember how and why my father was in my car. Well, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of my favourite people. So we had driven off to Hepple. I promise I will get to the end of this story. Maybe not straight away, but maybe by the end of this article.

Parked up. Ready to shoot. Camera out. Lens on camera. And then I just jave to work the scene and try and get compositions and pictures together. Now one video suggested using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. I wasn’t sure about this but tried it anyway just in case. While I was out of the car taking photos my father would be quietly listening to car radio holding one of the lenses as I was doing my thing. Bless him. That man has the patience of a saint. Either that or he enjoyed seeing me doing my thing. It was sharing with him one of the ways I seem to spend a lot of time.

It’s moments like that, that will stick in my memory forever in a way that going to the kitchen to get salt for my wife will be forgotten once I arrive in the kitchen. Not that I don’t want to to get salt for my wife, I just seen to forget very quickly.

So I started of by using my wide-angle lens and the thought, why the hell not, I’ll get the 70-300mm out of the bag and see what I can do with it. A wide angled lens will give you a very wide angle of view and offer up some wonderful distortion. Hence the name wide angled lens. The originality of that name still blows my mind! A telephoto lens however will give you the impression that everything has been drawn in and the background seems to be just being the foreground. It compresses the view… However they still say telephoto lens and not compressor lens. Go figure.

In the photos from this outing I think you’ll be able to see which photos were taken with which pens and of you click on each photos you can see the type of lens used in the description.

It’s one of my happy places and one that I keep going back to. They must think it weird that every summer a French car pulls up and this fat dude gets out with a camera and starts taking photos then gets back into said French car and drives off with souvenirs in his head that will keep him going until he comes back. It was just brilliant being able to just take in the scenery and enjoy being there with my Dad. Definitely a keeper that memory. It was just happiness. Happiness is being out with your Dad taking pictures and just being two men in a car driving across the Northumbrian countryside. These little instances of happiness that just seem to carry you through. Thanks Dad.

Happy birthday dear Daughter

13 years ago today, I had just had 24 hours of being a father for the second time.  I had become the father of a daughter.  The father of a daughter is not the father of a son.  Despite what the feminists might tell us, there is still a void of difference between the two.  If I listen to the ambient discourse, I have to treat my children the same in the way in the name of sacrosanct equality.  This is complete codswallop because, being an only child and becoming the father of two children, I did not know what to do.  I thought, well, not that bad back in the day, but little did I know that this was even more codswallop than the concept of equality.

I didn’t realise that I had to deal with two completely different people and although one was still a very tiny person, this young lady would teach me how different it can be.  Did I suddenly become overprotective of her?  Damned right I did.  And still am.  And she knows it.  So does my son…  Ooops a daisy!

Like any man and woman, they are complementary.  The same but different, and reflections on my parenting and on my spouse’s parenting.  I like them both despite their many qualities and failings.  Puberty was easier to deal with when my son was going through it, but my daughter was different.  I don’t know if it’s because she’s a girl or just another person.  I know that this too will pass, even for her as it has for my son.  But with a daughter entering puberty at 100 mph and a wife going through menopause, it’s nice having my son around as some testosterone backup.  Before he came back home, there was far too much oestrogen in my house.  Things can be a “little intense” at the moment.

As Padre Pio said, and whose feast day it is today, Pray, Hope, and don’t Worry.  He lived in a friary and not in my house.  He might have said something different had it been the case.  Or maybe not.  God is great, after all.

A View from the Garden

Sometimes you know that you’re going to get a reasonable couple of shots. The conditions just fall into place. Sometimes you have to break away from your Guinness and your parents hoping that they will understand.

We were out in the garden having a drink before eating that evening. It was a Sunday evening, and the day had been wonderful, and there was me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. It could! I had my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm lens which is a favourite of mine. The previous day’s sea mist had made a comeback. Now fog always makes for some very atmospherical photography as you can see here.

This view is what decided my parents to buy this house all those years ago when they first moved further north from Newcastle. With various winters and storms, some trees have had to come down, but that view through those trees just brings peace to any beholder.

Enjoy and find your peace…

Alnmouth First Day of Photography

As promised, I said I would share photos from my trip to Northumberland post by post. No novels, just photos…

I have got my need for colour out of my system. Maybe. Possibly. Well, never say never, and all that. I wanted to share some timeless black and white photography.

It was my first morning of photography where I sneaked a visit to Scott’s of Alnmouth for elevenses. There was the sea mist that you saw in my article Sea Mist. And when it cleared, it was an amazingly sunny day.

Not necessarily the best of conditions for photography, but as a photographer, I try to adapt to the day’s conditions. Lots of contrast etc. It also avoids getting up the crack of dawn. Thank you Dawn.

Does this mean that I am lazy? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not. When on holiday, I commence my day with a cup of tea (or maybe even more than one) and toast. It’s possibly time for a cup of tea right now. As I age graciously, I appreciate these simple pleasures of life. I also still have some Yorkshire tea! You’re jealous now, aren’t you!!