Our Lady of Work

On a flying visit to Paris I decided to take in a couple of places that I’ve never been. One of those places is a church in the 14th arrondissement. Paris is full of churches, of course, but this one is a bit different.

Ok, it doesn’t look very different. In fact, it looks pretty conventional. But wait till you see inside.

Ta-da.

It’s not really a stone building at all. It’s steel frame construction with just an outer cladding of stone.

In the mid-19th century, the population of this Paris district grew rapidly, quickly outgrowing the existing church. These were working people, many working in construction, but also many poor Parisians. Taking advantage of the interest in Paris’ 1900 Universal Exhibition, the parish priest, Father Soulange-Bodin, started a subscription to raise funds for a new parish church and the church that was built, L’eglise Notre Dame du Travail, Our Lady of Labour, was consciously designed, by the architect Jules Astruc, to reflect the lives and livelihoods of so many of its parishioners.

Overtly industrial in its design, the nave is built over a steel and iron framework.

This, in a way, reminds me of Tower Bridge. It’s so deceptive. On the outside it’s all stone, traditional, old-fashioned even, but on the inside it’s all modern (for the time) materials and construction techniques. And the modernity of it, the engineering, isn’t covered up or disguised, but displayed and celebrated.

Some of this was reused metalwork, having  previously been used in the construction of the Palais de L’Industrie, which had been built on the Champ de Mars in 1855 for an earlier Universal Exhibition .

Even the artworks inside the church reflect the world work work. Saint Luke, the Evangelist, venerated as a patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons and butchers; Saint Eloi (Eligius), patron saint of metal-workers and those who work with horses; and Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.

The church can be found in the 14th arrondissement in the district of Plaisance (nearest metro: Pernety on L 13.

https://www.notredamedutravail.net/

https://www.facebook.com/NotreDameDuTravail/

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Musée de la Romanité, Nimes – Part Deux

Roman Nemausus grew out of a earlier, iron-age settlement on Mont Cavalier, which was repurposed as a Roman town in the years before about 28BCE. Early coins indicate that the town was a colonia and it was made the capital of the province, Narbonne, by Augustus in about 16 to 13 BCE.

The shiny new Musée de la Romanité is the new home for the archaeological collection of Nimes which had previously been housed in the old museum, which (I think) was part of the University. I saw some of the collection there about three years ago but even then the museum was only partially open and there was a lot that I was unable to see. So having (finally!!) arrived in Nimes, I headed straight for the museum without further delay. The collection spans the history of the city from its early, iron-age, incarnation and through the Roman period.
Rather than an exhaustive trawl through everything in the museum, I’ll just highlight a few of the objects and displays that I particularly liked.

Representing the iron-age are these gorgeous stone warriors.

Statue de guerrier casque et en armes. Seconde moitie du Ve s. av J-C. Nimes, Grezan  

Interesting details include the breastplaate with its strapping, the torque around his neck, his sunburst medallion and what looks like a chain or rope around the waist. Also note the long tail of the helmet crest.

Bustes masculins avec torque et pectoral incises, decor incise et peint sur le socle. VIIe – VIe s av. J-C Sainte-Anastasie (Gard), Camp-Guiraud

This very stylised statuary is very different frrm the later, much more naturalistic classical style, but presents the Gaulish warriors as proud, strong and well-equipped. Displaying the busts in the round means that it’s possible to really see all the fine details of the armour and acoutrements, and then compare the detail from the busts with other objects on display in nearby cases.

 

The incised design on the Ste  Anastasie (above) warrior would have been painted in bright colours, and the huge helmet that he wears, possibly made of leather in real life, is decorated with rams’ horns.

It was very good to see these examples of pre-Roman Gaulish statuary and to think about how warriors, of the kinds who would have battled against the Roman forces, were representing themselves. And these were urban, or at least proto-urban people, living in fortified towns as in the model of the town of Castels at Nages, below.

This was one of the largest Gaulish towns in southern France. Built in the third-century BCE, it consisted of identical, stone-built houses, tightly packed in blocks and, by the first-century BCE, surrounded by substantial ramparts. It declined and was abandoned as the Roman administration took control  of the region, and the people moved into newer, Roman-style towns.

From the iron-age, there is also this cracking horse/bull/animal/thing.

Animal hybride decouvert sur le chantier de fuilles de villa Roma (1990). Epoque pre-Romaine (?).

  

This hybrid creature has, more or less, the body of a horse with the hooves of a bull. It’s clearly a special creature as its tail has been twisted into a fancy coiffure. the holes in its back were probably fixing points for decorative elements such as wreaths or horse-furniture (saddle, reigns…that sort of things).

  

As Nimes is a city with a number of Roman structures still standing, it’s unsurprising that the museum features artefacts that relate directly to those structures; the amphitheatre, Maison Caree, and the Temple of Diana, are all represented in the museum. This is great for visitors and locals alike and really helps to connect the exhibits in the museum with the city outside.

I’m a big fan of the display of decorative architectural elements, from various sites around the town, depicting theatrical mask.

I was very impressed with this large decorative frieze of garlands and ox-skulls.

The holes in the ox skull reminded me of the skull found at Vindolanda that had been used for target practice but these holes were probably to hold decorative elements like garlands and ribbons. Some of these architectural elements are originally from early Roman buildings but were reused, in antiquity and later, to decorate buildings in the town.

There are some nice mosaics on display in the museum, and there is a good view of some of them from the mezzanine level.

I particularly like this mosaic carpet with the monochrome swimmers in the border.

There was one in the old museum that I particularly liked but which I didn’t see in the new museum.

It’s not impossible that I just missed it due to hurrying but I do hope it goes on display if it isn’t already.

The last time that I was in Nimes, about three years ago, I’d visited the museum that was connected with the university, which was home to the Roman collection at the time.  Barely noticeable in one of the cases was a particular die, which I spent some time trying, and failing, to get a decent photo of. When I visited the new museum, I went in looking for this specific die.

Found it! 😀

This particular die  is a sort of hexagonal drum with a hole in one end and a lug on the other. The numbers (pips) are on the faces that run around the drum. As far as I could see, the numbering is regular, i.e. opposing faces add up to 7; 1>6, 2>5, 3>4.

When I saw it before, I was wondering how it was used, and about the significance of the shape. I think that I’d decided that it was one of a set which fitted together in a row, lug to dimple, and could be spin around. They reminded me of those stacker pencils that kids have. Has anyone seen any others like these anywhere?

As well as the above die, this case had a complete set of gaming counters and several other very nice dice.

There was also this object. I had no idea what it was until I read the caption. It’s a papyrus roller!

Derouleur de papyrus. 1er – 2er s. ap. J-C. Os

There was this glass funnel and syphon. The syphon, in particular, struck me as a remarkable survival.

I was also intrigued by this reconstruction of a portable fireplace, with utensils.

Dating from the 1st century CE, it was found during excavations of courtyard house 11 at the ‘Solignac / Villa Roma’ site. It’s made of a central bed made of bricks, set into a frame, probably made of wood, but long-since disappeared. The reconstruction is based on the various metal fixings and findings that were excavated; nails, laths and clamps. The utensils found were tongs, a knife, a tripod and a grill.

Lastly, I also liked these plumb-bobs. No particular reason, I just liked seeing them.

That’s all for now. Pip pip.

Musee de la Romanite, Nimes

I’ve been looking forward to the snazzy new Roman museum in Nimes for as long as I’ve known it was going to be a thing. It opened in early June so on my latest little trip, to Arles, I made a point of heading to Nimes to take a look.
The French rail company SNCF earned my everlasting enmity by cancelling my train, meaning that I arrived in Nimes a full 2 hours later than I should have, so my time was a bit more restricted than I would have liked and I actually ended up having to charge round the last bit in order to get back to the station in time to catch my train back to Arles (of which, more later).

Anyway, here’s the new Musee de la Romanite in all its glory.


I read that the design, by architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was, in part inspired by the idea of the fabric of the toga, with ripples and folds of glass panels reflecting the light and the shade, and bringing movement  and interest to what could be a boring, bland glass-box exterior.
From the inside, these panels act as frames for the views,

including the highlight view of Nimes’ 20,000 seat Amphitheatre.

I enjoy the visible engineering on the inside (see also the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris).

A the entrance, the museum begins with a spiral up to the pre-Roman Gaul collection.

The museum has lots of small-ish spaces and several bigger spaces and I must admit that I found it a little bit confusing trying to work out which space to go into next in order to follow the galleries more or less chronologically.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter, it’s just that I did have a few “where next?” moments, although these might just have been on account of my eagerness to see the things that I was glimpsing through the entrance-ways between the rooms. I can’t say that that spoiled the visit but I did have to hurry at the end when I discovered that I’d missed out a whole gallery! Luckily it was a small gallery so I just about had time to have a look before running off.

There are a few signs that seem to be par for the course with newly opened exhibition spaces. That sense of things being not quite finished in time for the scheduled opening. Some of the labels were clearly temporary.

There may have been the odd balustrade missing. Certainly, a proper rail would be better than ropes here.

Some of the spaces between furniture are too narrow. I saw a man with a pretty normal-sized pushchair unable to get past a bench. There was an alternative way around but I do think that, in a brand new building, either the gap should be wide enough (for a wheelchair actually) or there should be no gap at all and we all just go the other way. TBH, if they just moved the bench, that’s problem solved.

The staircase down to the lower ground floor temporary exhibition gallery is pretty bleak, like those staircases you have to go down when you’re boarding a flight, grey, lifeless, empty. It could do with a few images or something, to liven it up a bit.

But that’s the niggles out of the way and I think that all of these things are just tweaks to be made as the new museum beds in. Now for some of the cool stuff.

The building.

As I said above, I do like the design. It’s modern but not lary or obnoxious. Due to the evil fiends at SNCF, I really didn’t have enough time to investigate all of the spaces; there is a garden somewhere (on the roof?) and the expected cafes and a shop. This isn’t a disaster for me as it gives me more aspects of the museum to discover when I revisit. I will be revisiting.

Models.

Some people apparently think that models in museums are cheesy. I am not one of those people. There were models of the landscape, of the city, of individual structures, of types of artefacts.
I like this landscape model onto which the development of the city and its changing layout are projected. It’s not a complicated idea but it really helps to see the Roman city in its landscape context.

Interactive stuff 😀

Museums are, inevitably, full of stuff that must not be touched, but I’m fond of museums that also incorporate some stuff that you can touch to your heart’s delight.
Best one? For me, unsurprisingly, Roman games 😀😀

Click the link and you can see me winning with walnuts.
The Nut Game

Films 😀

The museum has a range of films about aspects of the collection and about the conservation of particular objects. My favourite was the one about quarrying 😀, which demonstrated how Roman quarrymen (often slave or convict labour) removed blocks of stone from the quarry face using hand tools and wedges.

Context. 😀

There’s a definite emphasis on placing objects and architectural elements into their proper contexts. Where did they come from? Where were they found? Which buildings are they associated with? How were they used? The models and films really help with this, moving the artefacts from being just stuff in display cases to actually being part of everyday life in the Roman town.

Despite being big and expensive-looking, the Musee de la Romanite feels like a local museum. I got the impression that quite a few of the visitors were locals, as I kept hearing exclamations of recognition from people looking at artefacts, particularly in relation to key local landmarks like Maison Carrée and the Temple of Diana. People did seem genuinely interested. There were a lot of people watching that quarrying film, maybe, in part, because it related directly to the restoration of the Maison Carrée.

What else? Oh yeah, artefacts 😀

This post is getting too long so you’ll have to wait until the next one for the artefacts but I’ll just whet your appetite with a few. Suffice it to say that the museum takes in a wide range of object types; building material; pottery; metalwork; statues; glassware; mosaics; the lot.

Yasss 😀

So, yeah, SNCF.

Having charged round the last bits of the museum and, literally, run to the station, I found that my train back to Arles was delayed by an hour.

*shakes fist and calls down the curses of the gods*.

museedelaromanite.fr 

The ancient dead speak

Last weekend, me and my fellow explorer Craig, visited an exhibition that we’ve been looking forward to for a while. At the Museum of London Docklands, ‘Roman Dead‘.

This exhibition tells the stories of some of the people of Roman London, as seen through the evidence of their mortal remains, and of the funerary practices and methods of commemoration used by Roman Londoners. Literary evidence tells us that the ancient burial grounds of Londinium began to be discovered at least as early as the 1570s as John Stowe writes, in his A Survey of London in 1598, that as the ground around Spitalfields was being broken up for clay, the workers discovered cinerary urns (pots used to hold the ashes of people who were cremated), the cremated  bones and other remains of earlier Londoners.

This burial group, dating to 60-200CE, was found at Bishopsgate. The large glass jar would have held the cremated remains (in the tray in front), with a samian cup used as a lid.

The smaller glass jars may have been used to hold oils and perfumes used in the funerary rites or offerings to the gods.

I was interested to see the map of known burial grounds around Londinium (in red), particularly the two on the Southwark islands.

The burial grounds were situated just outside the city limits to avoid the pollution of the living by the dead and archaeologists have unearthed evidence of a wide range of funerary practices carried out by the people of London. The exhibitions includes evidence of cremations and inhumations (burials), a range of grave goods, buried with the deceased, and evidence of some more unusual practices. For example, the skeletal remains of a woman whose skull was removed, after death and possibly much later, after the body had decomposed, and placed on top of her pelvis.

As it is today, so it was in Roman London. We see people from all over the Roman world; from Britain and all parts of mainland Europe, the Middle-East and North Africa, and they all came to, or travelled through Londinium. Some of them died here. Some of these different funerary practices may have been influenced by people’s different areas of origin, by changing tastes and even by changing religions, but some perhaps also by the desire to ‘do what Granddad would have wanted’, possibly harking back to older tribal or cultural traditions not current in Roman Britain but which, in the face of death, felt to surviving family members or friends like the right thing to do.

The objects in the exhibition work around the people in the exhibition. Well, the remains of the people anyway. As well as cremated remains, on display are the skeletal remains of 28 individuals. With funerary collections, I particularly like to see the whole assemblege, or as much as possible of it, displayed together, if possible reassembled as it was in the ground. I think that seeing all of the objects together with the remains can tell us something about the people themselves, but also about their loved ones, their friends, the people who arranged and carried out the funeral rites. We can’t see the remains exactly as those people saw them at the point of burial, but it’s the closest that we can get.

So here are a few of the grave goods found:

The centrepiece of exhibition is this well preserved stone sarcophagus found last year near Harper Road in Southwark.

Stone sarcophagi are rare in London, this is only the third one found, so it’s a big deal. Most people buried in Roman London would have been buried in wooden caskets or possibly just laid in the ground wrapped in a shroud, so the lady interred here, and her family, must have been quite wealthy to be able to afford such a burial. This is the first time that the sarcophagus has been shown and I was struck by how big it is. It’s not overly wide, but it did look really long.

In the accompanying film archaeologists, conservation experts and one of the curators talk us through the discovery, recovery, investigation and conservation of the sarcophagus. When it was discovered, the archaeologists could see that it was badly cracked so it wasn’t excavated onsite. Instead a wooden frame was constructed around it, holding it firmly together and allowing it to be lifted out of the ground by crane, still filled with earth that had accumulated in it, and taken to the lab to be excavated in more controlled conditions. The breaks int he stone are very visible, even after conservation.

In the lab the remains of the occupant and a few fragments of the grave goods were found, already disturbed by grave robbers. There’s no way to know all of the objects that the lady was buried with, but the few pieces that remain include an engraved intaglio, probably from a finger-ring, and a tiny fragment of gold, possibly the remains of an earring.

The object that I think amazed me the most was this:

It may not look like much at first, just a rough plank of wood. And so it is, but it has been reused as the base of a wooden coffin. Close inspection reveals some marks left on the wood. The imprints left by the body.

The marks left by the knees.

And by the ribs.

This, for me, was the object that really made me go “Wow!”. The dead really do leave a lasting impression.

The Roman Dead exhibition is at Museum of London Docklands until 28th October 2018 and it’s free to visit. Yes! Free!

 

 

Rome with a Vieux

It was the Easter holidays and I had a few days off work so I decided to take myself off for a short trip to France. Staying in Caen for a couple of days gave me an opportunity to visit the nearby site of Vieux La Romaine.

According to the Tabula Peutingeriana, the Romans knew this site as Aregenua and it was the capital of the Viducasses tribe.

My journey to the site will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to try to travel in rural France, or rural anywhere for that matter, without a car, and started with a bus that had to be booked in advance. Thank goodness that they had an online booking system for that, as my French really isn’t up to telephone conversations. In my mind’s eye I see those poor French people wincing when they hear me murdering their beautiful language with my gawd-blimey norf-Laandaan accent.

Anyway, the bus from Caen took me to the village of Esquay-Notre-Dame, which is about 2 miles from Vieux, where the Roman site is, then I walked. This is fine, it’s only 2 miles. However, on the day of my visit, the rains fell… and fell… and fell, meaning that I arrived at the museum a little soggy.

No matter. The site more than made up for the weather.

As well as the museum, the viewable site consists of a section of the forum, which is currently under excavation;

‘Ma Maison a La Cour an “u” ‘ (the house with the U-shaped courtyard),

and ‘La Maison au Grand Perisyle’ (the grand peristyle house);

Unsurprisingly, I spent quite a bit of the time in the museum, which tells the story of the town of Aregenua and the people who lived there. Aregenua was sited at a crossroads of Roman routes so it provided an important staging post and, although it wasn’t particularly big and was never walled, the town had all the usual amenities; temples, baths, forum, and aqueduct.

We can see some fragments of the buildings, and the elements on display include these columns, probably from a temple, which are intricately decorated with Bacchic scenes, and the tendrils and foliage of plants.

There are some very nice fragments of painted wall plaster.

Statues, mostly fragmentary, including the titular goddess of the town.

  

and other fragmentary pieces, some statuary, some sculptural.

One interesting thing about the museum is the lengths that they have gone to to encourage touching.

Not touching everything, obviously, but certain objects actually have ‘please touch’ signs to encourage a more tactile visit than is often the case with museums.

As it was clear that many school groups visit the site (I saw about 4 different groups in the time that I was there), catering to the desire to interact very directly with objects seemed like a good way to go.

So, here are a few favourite objects on display…

I also really liked the Roman key exhibit. It included the usual case full of Roman keys in all shapes and sizes, but it can sometimes be hard, when looking at keys as inanimate objects, to work out how they actually worked, so there’s a model to try out. Which I did.

Click here to see how the replica Roman key and lock work.

There is a whole display of Roman gaming equipment, including a, fragmentary, gaming board and a type-2 die with rather fancy pips.

And there is a whole case devoted to bone-working. The Romans used animal bone to make a wide range of objects, from dice to combs, hairpins to knife handles. This case actually contains unfinished pieces and the offcuts and detritus left behind when things are carved out of animal bone. This is about the process rather than the finished articles.

But here are a couple of the finished pieces, knives with carved bone handles.

Roman knives with carved bone handles.

And I particularly liked this:

This is archaeological stratigraphy explained, and it’s an attempt to show how jumbled up and confusing archaeology in the ground can be. There are all sorts of different phases of building and land use, walls, floors, demolition and collapse, burials, later features cutting through earlier ones. I think that it’s great that the curators at the museum have actually gone to some lengths to explain how tricky archaeology can be to unpick and how archaeologists working on-site, and in the labs, work out what the remains are telling us about the site and its people.

  

 

I spent ages in the museum and at the sites outside, and had a little play with the ‘Roman’ games near the grand peristyle house.

Then, with another pre-booked bus to catch back to Caen, I set off, still in the rain, back to Esquay-Notre-Dame. A good, if soggy and a bit muddy, day out.

More info here:

Vieux la Romaine – http://www.vieuxlaromaine.fr/accueil.html

Perseus Tufts – vieux la romanie

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:id=aregenua

The road to Roadburn

Roadburn festival has been on my radar for a few years now but for one reason an another, I haven’t actually made it over there to join the festivities. 2018 was the year it finally happened so this is, in no particular order, my Roadburn.

A fairly early flight (via Eindhoven) meant that I was in Tilburg by lunchtime, checked into the hostel where I was staying and at the festival venue in no time. Strolling down ‘Weirdo Canyon’ I immediately spotted my pal Simon. In some contexts, Simon’s looks might make him stand out; bald head, great big bushy beard, extensive ink-age; but at Roadburn he rather blends in, so I was quite impressed that I managed to spot him so easily.

013

A cold drink and a catch up was followed by a stroll around to the main 013 venue  to see what was what and as the Het Patronaat venue opposite had no queue, we went in and managed to catch a bit of a Q&A session with members of the Norwegian collaborative project, Hugsjá.

They talked about the development of an extended work exploring the origins, people, nature and folklore of Norway, and it’s relationships with the land and the sea and I ended up the next day seeing some of this work performed.

It consisted of songs or ‘movements’ in an extended storytelling of the first people to populate the land that became Norway, the importance of the sea, the ancient shipping routes and the harbours. The performers used familiar instruments like drums, guitar and violin, but also animal horns and a lyre. This work was very absorbing and I was glad to have caught at least some of it, although the lure of other artists (more of which later) proved too strong for me to remain for the entire piece.

This year’s festival had an ‘east meets west’ theme with the Artists in Residence, Earthless, from San Diego, colliding with Japanese bands on the Guruguru Brain record label, and with Damo Suzuki. I was very keen to see the ‘Japanese Psych Experience’ bands; Minami Deutsch, Kikagaku Moyo and Dhidalah, and also the incomparable Damo,  so I made a particular point of getting to the venues where they were playing well in advance. I was very glad that I did because it meant that I was able to get great views of the performances and not be squashed into a corner or totally unable to get into the venue. The Green Room, in particular, is one of those venues that looks empty for ages and then, all of a sudden, you can’t get in the door. It looked like plenty of my fellow festival-goers were as keen as I was to see these bands so the venues were very full.

So, Minami Deutsch, a great favourite of mine. I’ve seen them a few times, the first time at Liverpool Psych Fest, but don’t tire of their rather louche krautrock rhythms. They’re a great demonstration of how good it can be when you play exactly the same musical motif over and over again for about 5-10 minutes straight. If the motif is good to start with, 10 minutes of it is awesome. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to this, I was not the only one who approved. And you can actually dance to them 😀

  

Kikagaku Moyo, who I’d only previously seen at PXYK, also channel some of the kraut-y grooves, but in, perhaps a less single minded fashion. They mix up the rhythms more often and have a strong Indian slant to their psych music, including a sitar, played guitar-style. Their upbeat set built to quite a party party big-finish. A lot of fun.

 

Dhidalah struck  me at first as a bit more prog. Now, my prog tolerance is pretty low so I was pretty glad that they didn’t drift off too far down the noodle path but pulled out a strong, driven  psych set, a bit darker and harder-edged than the other two bands and definitely got me onside. I’d like to see them again soon.

 

Damo Suzuki, famously an ex-member of Can, was the lure that tore me away from Hugsjá. Damo played two sets over the festival, the first in the Koepelhal with Earthless, and the sitar player from Kikagaku Moyo and the second in the Green Room with Minami Deutsch. Both of these sets pleased me greatly. With Earthless, the set began rather slowly, meandering and building, with Damo’s familiar  ‘Waken to the Night’ refrain, basically a long long extended psych work-out, gradually growing into an absolute bit of a beast. The long run out had me actually thinking that someone was going to have to come on stage with a big long comedy hook and drag the drummer off-stage physically. The audience loved it.

Damo‘s second audience, in the packed Green Room , was equally thrilled with his ultra-krautrock set with Minami Deutsch. I’d gone into the room and adopted the position on the balcony super-early in order to get a good spot because this was one of my absolute dream  pairings. I wasn’t disappointed. Again the set started out quite mellow, with a long lead in, but ended in krautrock wig-out heaven. Damo and the guys from Minami Deutsch seemed made to be together. My dying wish is for these two Damo sets to be released as ‘Live at Roadburn’ records so that I can own them forever.

There was more east meets west action later on with an actual ‘East Meets West’ psych jam featuring Earthless and Kikagaku Moyo. Beginning with just two players on stage, Earthless’ Isaiah Mitchell on guitar and Kikagaku Moyo’s Ryu Kurosawa, who were joined by other players, one by one, two by two until the stage was filled with musicians and the main hall at 013 was filled with the sounds of (what appeared to be) a semi-improvised jam involving guitars, basses, various kinds of drums, sitar, shaky-tappy-things and a gong! A big gong!

Who else? The Heads! There was me, down the front, bopping away to loud heavy psych whilst nudie sex films played in the background. Aye me! In any case, this largely instrumental set was good and heavy and a lot of fun, even if the background blow-jobs were a little distracting at times. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look!

 

I remarked afterwards that one of the things that I kinda like about The Heads is the way they get on, RRRRROOOOCCCCCKKKK!!!!! and get off. No messing. There was some proper happy-bopping during this set (Simon was up on the balcony and remarked that it was one of the sets that didn’t just involve the audience in ‘head nodding’ but in full on dancing).

With Godflesh I had a bit of a dilemma because of schedule clashes so I only saw a bit of the set. It sounded pretty typically Godflesh; loud, intense, crushing but also quite sparse. No frills. In fact the only frill on stage was Justin’s new (to me) long-ish hair!

My disappointment at missing most of their Roadburn set was offset by the fact that they’re playing at Raw Power next month, so I won’t be going without for long.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor played in the main room of 013 and I went in after The Heads had finished. This is a big room but it was packed to the gills, especially so after The Heads’ packed crowd piled in. I managed to find a spot high up on the top balcony where I could see and also, eventually, sit down on the step. From my eyrie I was able to allow Godspeed’s somewhat melancholic winds swirl around me. Dark music in a dark room to people dressed almost exclusively in black.

Dark.

I was only able to see a bit of Boris‘ set because of their proximity to The Heads, but I do enjoy their sense of theatre and the intensity of their performance. They use silence to put their audience on edge because we know what’s coming after. Noise.

So, there were some specific bands that I was very keen to see but in between those I was quite happy to meander into this venue or that and just see what I could see. It’s a fairly relaxed sort of a festival so it’s pretty easy to chill out in between bursts of frantic activity. One of the gigs I wandered into was Sólveig Matthildur.

Playing solo with electronic music and vocals, this felt like quite an intimate show; a lone performer, a small venue with a low stage and the personal revelations between songs – a song written as a piece of coursework, judged critically and given a low grade but nevertheless feeling special to the writer. I’d be happy to see more of this artist.

Thaw are Polish black metal. I’m not particularly a black metal fan but I don’t mind a bit here and there and I did quite enjoy this. All that darkness in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon. One of the songs was even a sort of black metal duet, with the different voices expressing different parts of the song. Lovely. Talking of black metal, I also caught a bit of מזמור :: MIZMOR which was fun.

 

More generally, I just really enjoyed the festival. The venues are very nice, although sometimes a bit difficult to get into if there’s a popular band playing. Strategic planning is the key if there’s a band you particularly want to see. The new venues a short distance from the main 013 site were good, and I really liked the little warehouse/railway-sidings area they were in.

It’s a bit of a mare to find accommodation and it’s not particularly cheap, you can basically wave your money goodbye, but it’s pretty easy to have a good time and Tilburg is  a nice town with decent shops and cafes, and a lovely ice cream shop. The Roadburn crowd is generally pretty chill so it’s not a stressy or aggressive festival and, although there is all day drinking, it doesn’t descend into the kind of  rollocking, drunken vomit-fest that we see with so many festivals.

So that’s pretty much my Roadburn. Not very doom-y, not very black metal-y and just two days this year before I went off looking for Roman stuff, but there are already plans afoot for next year, together with an expanded crew. There’s even talk of camping :/

Oh yeah, Roadburn socks 😀

The sounds of the middle lands

Last year a mate of mine, let’s all him ‘Dave’, took redundancy from a job he’d been working in forever and embarked on a well deserved period of freedom from the rat-race. One of the first things he did was get another job! But this was a little different. Instead of toiling away for ‘The Man’ in a not-particularly-interesting job just for the money, he started doing something that I’ve been doing for a while myself; working for the love of it. I’m talking about volunteering.

His chosen volunteer role was at The Coventry Music Museum – ‘The Sound Place to See’.

The museum tells the story of the the musical heritage of Coventry, and other parts of the Midlands, but it’s probably best known as the ska museum. This is hardly surprising as 2-Tone and ska (along with heavy metal) have played such a prominent role in the Midlands music scene. 2-Tone certainly does feature heavily, with a 2-Tone Cafe, an extensive permanent collection dedicated to the genre and, at the time of my visit, a temporary exhibition about Neville Staple, of Specials and Fun Boy Three fame. This exhibition features a large number of artefacts on loan from the man himself, together with some amazing documents and photographs.

However, it isn’t just about the ska, there is also a permanent display celebrating the work of electronic music pioneer and doyenne of Doctor Who, Delia Derbyshire.

And there are cases highlighting other local bands, musicians and musical styles including the Primatives (Tracy Tracy’s Mum also volunteers at the museum!), Hazel O’Connor, Bhangra, and, one or two gems (which I also actually own) from Spectrum and Spiritualized (not actually from Coventry but from just down the road in Rugby).

There is also a display of objects and documents relating to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s visit to Coventry in 1968. Here we see a calendar showing John and Yoko plating acorns for peace. As you do.

So my mate, ‘Dave’, took me on a grand tour of the museum and introduced me to some of the goodies on display. I’m just adding a very small number of photos to this blog post, just to whet your appetite, but there’s so much in this small museum that you’re bound to find something you like.

The museum has a local, but not parochial, feel. It’s about its place and its people but not in a Royston Vasey sort of way. This is a museum that welcomes visitors from all over the world. I like local museums because their are so rooted in their geographical space and tell the stories of that place, often from quite a personal point of view (I like national museums too, but they do different jobs).

There’s a really good range of artefacts on display, many of them donated by the artists themselves, and the museum is able to tell some really strong stories. There are also some great film clips playing, including a special exclusive that you can’t see anywhere else.

You can see if you can spot if you’re favourite Midlands artists have visited by checking out the autographs. Here’s two of my favourites.

There’s a room where visitors can go and play various musical instruments, including a theramin! And they serve a decent cup of tea in the 2-Tone Village Cafe.

So there you have it, The Coventry Music Museum and Ska Village. If you’re in the neighbouhood, I’d recommend a visit. It’s not a big museum but there is a lot in it so do give yourself a bit to time to have a good look. And say hi to Tracy Tracy’s Mum!