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Rainy Day Music and SF at the BL

The Saturday before last we went to the London Feis Festival 2011, in Finsbury Park. The weather was looking to be quite bad as we set out: it had been oscillating between sun and rain all morning. Would we be drenched or sunburned? Or both? Only time would tell.

I had been hitting the festival website to try to find out who was on when, exactly. There was a page which said (and still does, a the time of writing), ‘Band and Stage Times: To be released on the day‘. I had taken that to mean, ‘… will be announced on the website on the day’. I did wonder about how much use that would be, considering many people would be getting on their way early in the morning, or the night before, and wouldn’t have had the chance to look at the website. Then again, everyone has a smartphone nowadays, right?

Anyway, it turned out that they meant, …. will be released at the festival.’ On the bus to Finsbury Park I searched Twitter for the expected #feis hashtag, wherein some nice person had tweeted pictures of the running order (I can’t find those pictures now, but no matter). It appeared we were missing The Undertones, but we would get there in time for The Waterboys.

As indeed we did. We set up base camp near the back and listened to ‘Be My Enemy’ (timely, as I recently read Christopher Brookmyre’s novel which borrows that title) ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, ‘… And a Bang on the Ear’, and of course, ‘The Whole of the Moon’. It was great to see them again. Well, hear them; we didn’t see much from the back, and there were no big screens like at most festivals these days.

A trip to the second stage saw us Nanci Griffith, closely followed by Shane McGowan. Always good to see he’s still hanging in there, and he was in excellent voice. I note that it’s an alarming four and half years since I last saw The Pogues.

Shane McGowan at the London Feis, 2011

Heard a bit of The Cranberries while queueing for toilet and bar. They were OK. Some Irish youngsters at the bar sang along with ‘Linger’ very sweetly.

Then back to the main stage for Christy Moore, food, and finally Dylan.

Bob Dylan at the London Feis, 2011

That’s him there in the white hat; can you tell?

It’s been a long wait for me. I know he’s been over here in the last few years, but somehow I’ve never managed to hear about the dates until it was too late. Here we were, then, finally in the distant presence of the great man himself.

And it was, as I expected, like listening to him doing cover versions of his own songs. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It was quite a ‘greatest hits’ kind of set, though, to my surprise. I had gained the impression that he mainly did newer songs these days, but there was a strong focus on Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. And you can’t go far wrong with those. Here’s a full set list.

The only possible singalong moment was the ‘How does it feel?’ lines in ‘Like Rolling Stone’, and it made me wonder: maybe he started doing such changed versions of his songs because he doesn’t like people singing along.

I thought this stall would do roaring trade, but the rain mostly stayed off.

Umbrella stall at the London Feis, 2011

Then Sunday was Out of this World, the Science Fiction thing at the British Library. ‘Science Fiction, but not as you know it’, was the tag line. In fact, it was pretty much exactly as i know it, but I guess I’m part of some sort of rarefied elite, or something (or ‘fans’ as we’re known).

Anyway, it was very good, though perhaps it’s limiting, being a library: much of the exhibition was books behind glass. Which is fine, but sometimes you’d like to pick them up and handle them.

There was a Tardis in a corner of the Time Travel section, and a robot that seemed to be modelled on HAL 9000.1

All in all, a pure dead brilliant weekend.

  1. I know it wasn’t a robot. 

[H]is baritone sax tugged at the bottom of the track like taffy on the sole of a sneaker.”

The quote is from this obituary of Clarence Clemons. Sadly, The Big Man died yesterday.

I saw him at a solo gig once, during the year I worked in Turin. He did a load of blues and rock standards, some of his own, and a couple of Springsteen songs. “Well what did you expect?” he said, “The Big Man wouldn’t be The Big Man without The Boss.”

And I saw the E-Street Band on the Born in the USA tour, where his sax, of course, tore the house down. Always a neat trick at an outdoor gig.

Sad to see him go.

Tell, and Maybe Show as Well

Prospective — or actual — writers are always given the advice, ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s considered to be more engaging as a storytelling technique to let your reader know what’s happening by letting them experience it via the experiences of your characters, rather than merely informing them what happens to your characters.

Good enough advice, in general. But there are always counterexamples.

This morning on the way to work I read a story on Tor’s website, which is almost entirely telling; and almost entirely wonderful.

Six Months, Three Days‘, by Charlie Jane Anders. Highly recommended.

Let’s All Say “Yes”

This morning I heard John Humphrys haul the Prime Minister over the coals regarding the behaviour of the “No to AV” campaign. Cameron tried to separate the “Conservative No” campaign from the rest of the No campaign, while failing to condemn the outright lies told by the broader campaign. It was a remarkable piece of squirming, and decidedly unconvincing.

He then went on to use the “one person one vote” argument. This asserts that under AV, some people’s votes are counted more than once. It ignores the fact that every voter can specify a list of preferences, of course, but it also seems to take an over-literal interpretation of the word “count”. True, if my first preference is eliminated (under AV), my second preference is counted, which means that in some sense my ballot paper (or the entries on it) must be counted again; but ultimately the preferences I state are only applied towards one candidate. My paper only “counts” towards one person.

Alternatively, consider it a minor redefinition of what a “vote” is. Instead of meaning a single “X” placed in a single box, it means a set of one or more preferences specified on a ballot paper. “One person, one paper,” you could say.

And last night I heard a “Referendum Broadcast” by the No campaign. It was incredibly stupid, too; and again by being over-literal. It analogised an AV-based election as a horse race, in which horse A came first, but the victory was awarded to third-placed horse C. Everyone was very confused. Because AV is so complex that nobody can understand it.

Here’s a picture that shows the complexities of the two systems.

Come on, say “Yes” on Thursday.

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes has just won the Clarke Award with her Zoo City. Congratulations to her, and all.

I just finished reading her Moxyland, which I was given at last year’s Eastercon, and… I’m not so impressed.

Strange Horizons has a good dual review of it. I kind of enjoyed it, especially towards the end. But in many ways I found it annoying, and I’ve been trying to work out exactly why that is.

Part of it is the characters, I think. I don’t mind unsympathetic — even unpleasant — characters. But I think the main problem with these ones is that it’s hard to tell their voices apart, and since the story is told from multiple first-person viewpoints, that’s a problem.

But I think the biggest point of disconnection for me was technological: there is one particular item that made my disbelief-suspension system collapse in despair.

Because I can easily believe in a near future where your phone takes the place of both credit cards and cash, where it is the heart and soul of your identity, and to be disconnected would make you an unperson. But even supposing that phones could be engineered to give their owners a taser-like shock at the command of any police officer (what if your battery is low?); even supposing that a society would not rise up in protest at the madness of a government requiring its citizens to possess such a thing; and even supposing that it all worked: I can’t believe that nobody would carry them in thick rubber pockets.

So in the end, in a novel containing much about political activism, it’s the political acquiescence of its imagined society that crashed me out of the story too often.

Still, it was her first novel, and shows much promise, so I expect that Zoo City will be a worthy winner.

Emusic Followup

eMusic got back to me. As I said, I emailed them to complain about the disappearance of re-downloading.

Randall, from eMusic Customer Support, said:

It would be great if we could offer the privilege of re-downloading music for free to our members, but the truth of the matter is that our agreements with our labels prohibit us from doing so

which is not surprising. But why the recent change?

while we have not had the tracking systems in place to enforce it before, we do now.

I see. He went on to say:

we believe it is the best policy for everyone involved because ultimately it benefits the artists that we all love.

I’m not convinced. It is in the sense that, if I want to get the albums I lost, I’ll have to buy them again, so the artists get paid again. But I’d be surprised if many artists really want to get paid more because of something that could be seen as ripping off their fans.

Though I suppose the comparison would be that if I had broken or lost a CD (or scratched a record, for us old types) I wouldn’t get it replaced for free.

But digital files, being so ephemeral, just feel like they belong in a different category.

Emusic and Re-downloading

OK, everyone knows about Emusic, right? Good site for downloading mainly independent stuff. You often find that you can only get recent stuff by bands and artists who used to be on major labels and have been dropped (or have split up and reformed).

Anyway, I am 98.763% convinced that they used to let you re-download tracks that you had downloaded before. So imagine my dismay, when taking, I thought, the final few steps in recovering from my recent disk replacement. Just download the recent Emusic tracks that I hadn’t backed up, right?

Oh, no. Not any more. Re-downloading is only for failed downloads.

I’ve emailed them about it, but I’m not expecting much. Not happy, Emusic. Not happy.