Friday, January 31, 2014

'The Bridge'

31 January 2014

Of the current wave of Scandi-crime TV series I think the Danish/Swedish co-production ‘The Bridge’ (the second series of which comes to its conclusion on BBC4 this weekend) is my favourite. Despite being very violent and macabre it’s also incredibly funny. Detective Saga Noren from Malmo County Police is a brilliant character: her Asperger traits take the quirkiness of Sherlock to another level but we are never laughing at her condition – she is a sympathetic, strong and impressive centre to the story. Her professional relationship with her Danish counterpart, Martin Rohde, is warm and believable and it is really interesting to see how it has developed in this second series. The writing is clever and witty, the photography and direction are stunning and the plot is fantastically convoluted, littered with the corpses of a trawlerful of red herrings. I love the way we follow the lives of a host of seemingly unconnected characters for ages before their link to the crimes under investigation is revealed. It is very tempting to suspect each new character to be the criminal mastermind behind everything that has happened. I’m very much looking forward to the final two episodes and the subsequent analysis on Stuart Jeffries excellent series blog on the Guardian website at:


Friday, January 24, 2014

'Traces Of You' by Anoushka Shankar

24 January 2014

'Traces Of You', the new album from Anoushka Shankar, is an intriguing collaboration with brings together Ravi Shankar's daughters, Anoushka and Norah Jones, and the British producer Nitin Sawhney. The resulting mixture of styles is hard to categorise as Anoushka Shankar's sitar plays alongside Norah Jones' vocals, Nitin Sawhney's excellent flamenco guitar and a variety of other instruments from piano to tabla. It's a compelling mix with touches of jazz, Indian classical music, pop and more. Gentle, attractive, thoughtful and innovative music.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

'Die tote Stadt' by Eirch Korngold

17 January 2014

I really enjoyed listening to the violinist Nicola Benedetti on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 this week. She displayed an infectious enthusiasm and inspirational passion for each of the pieces of music she chose which sent me straight to Spotify to listen to them at greater length. In particular I was taken with her love of Korngold, an underrated composer who I have written about here before (in April 2008 and October 2008). I had not previously listened to his opera Die tote Stadt (from which Nicola Benedetti chose an aria) but I am now a big fan. This is lush, romantic music, achingly beautiful, dramatic and tuneful.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

'Mark Steel's In Town'

10 January 2014

It was great to see the return of ‘Mark Steel’s In Town’ this week (BBC Radio 4, Wednesdays at 6.30 pm). As I wrote here in March 2007: “the real test of a stand-up comedian’s skill is playing a small-town arts centre on a weekday evening”. I spoke then about a particular young comedian I had seen many years ago at the arts centre in Grantham: “demonstrating how little she knew her audience she started to tell a joke set in a nightclub and asked us to name the best nightclub in Grantham. After several minutes of discussion the audience concluded it didn’t know of any nightclubs in Grantham and, somewhat reluctantly, the comedian agreed, as a compromise, to set her joke in a nightclub in nearby Nottingham.” The excellent Mark Steel (reviewed here in June 2006 and May 2009) conversely demonstrates the greatest respect for his audiences by constructing each show in his ‘Mark Steel’s In Town’ series to be specifically about the relevant town. Undertaking extensive research he creates 30 minutes of material that reflect the idiosyncrasies, prejudices and peculiarities of each location back to its residents. And then he tests the results by trying to make an audience of locals laugh about themselves. It’s invariably incredibly funny but this week’s show, focussing on Glastonbury in Somerset, was a particularly good one. I can’t remember an episode in which the audience answered back quite so much, resulting in a splendid argument between the comedian and the collective voice of Glastonbury. Well worth a listen at:

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Friday, January 03, 2014

'Various Pets Alive & Dead' by Marina Lewycka

3 January 2014

I've previously compared the novelist Marina Lewycka to David Lodge and Anne Tyler (in reviewing 'We Are All Made of Glue' here in January 2011 and ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ in April 2006). She writes entertaining contemporary comic novels with a lightness of touch that acts as a Trojan horse for some serious themes. I really enjoyed Marina Lewycka's latest novel 'Various Pets Alive & Dead' which deals with the financial crisis of 2008. Mathematician Serge is a 'quant' (quantitative analyst) at Finance and Trading Consolidated Alliance at the heart of the London banking world but his mother, Doro, thinks he is completing his PhD in Cambridge. Doro still lives in Doncaster where she brought up her family in a socialist commune. Her daughter Clara is a primary school teacher who lives in Sheffield. Each chapter is told through the eyes of one of these three characters. Gradually we piece together their stories, the history of the commune and the contrast between political ideals and the pragmatic modern world. Short chapters create a real pace to the intertwined narratives which builds to some wonderful comic set pieces as the separate lives of the main characters come together. There are some mysteries buried in this family history, not all of which are neatly tied up. 'Various Pets Alive & Dead' is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.