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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Monday, 11 January 2016

I remember David Bowie - formative influence, genius and a man whom I met once in an unexpected place.




David Bowie (1947 - 2016)

I was truly amazed when I first came across an album by this man with the proudly flaunted chicken-chest and daringly challenging face makeup. I had, of course, loved Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust and knew that David Bowie was an exciting new phenomenon in an already thrilling period of rock music. This album though was significant - Aladdin Sane (1973) hit me with a force that I might have expected if I had only got to know his two earlier albums first (Hunky Dory, 1971 and The Rise Of Ziggy Stardust, 1972) and not just absorbed them intravenously from students' bar juke boxes along with many other coming-of-age excitements in those days that now seem so long ago. People knock the 1970s and ridicule its fashion sense and its music but, just maybe, now that David Bowie has died, they might reconsider an era that will always remain 'golden' for me.




I 'awoke' to so many things in that period as I began that often confusing journey that was my coming- of-age. If David Bowie could turn and face the change then in an age when it seemed anything could happen, then why couldn't I? It was the beginning of a journey that continues for me, alleluia, but now seems strangely shaken by the unexpected news of Bowie's death.


I suppose we should've guessed that something was up over the last year but David Bowie had long chosen to live his life outside of the tabloid headlines so that we could absorb his work as art - separate from the man in his sixties living a life that wasn't any of our business. I was waiting to listen to the new album, Blackstar, only released a few days ago. Well it will be the only Bowie album I will discover when the great man is no longer alive. I was discussing the record's release with a friend last Friday and looking forward to the next chapter in Bowie's life of changes. So few of my rock heroes (Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young) from those days managed to sustain a body of stimulating new work throughout their (and my) life. I may have thought Heroes (1977) the last of his era-changing works but I never lost faith or interest in the career of one of rock music's giants.

It was an unexpected encounter with David Bowie in 1976 that left me unusually but decidedly lost for words. Student days over, I was working at Granada Television with the rock star Marc Bolan when I bumped into him in one of the gents lavatories by the TV studios. Marc Bolan was talking to a tall shy man in his late twenties. 'Colin,' he said, ' let me introduce you to David.' We shook hands and said hello. It was all over in a moment but I really did meet David Bowie in a lavatory.




Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)

In those Seventies years, I was on the move, going places, I thought and hoped, thrilled by the possibilities that contemporary rock music sang into my ears. Life was simplified in student rooms, living with what you could pack into a single case - long before the miraculous music-collecting possibilities of the digital age. I usually listened to music in public places or friends' pads leaving a few cherished LPs behind in the parental home. This changed with Aladdin Sane with an early stereo sound system in a shared flat. It was there that I could spend many a morose or over-excited evening devouring the subtleties in the early Bowie albums where startling brilliant musicians, not just four lads with guitars and a drum-kit, joined Bowie in creating music that stood with any recording by the jazz or classical greats.  It was then that I started to carry around with me a small collection of nine albums (three by David Bowie) which still stir the inner me while acting as reminders of where I came from in those heady days. So today I am joining the masses who are mourning the passing of the man if not the dream.

Here are those nine albums:






Aladdin Sane (David Bowie, 1973)


Hunky Dory (David Bowie, 1971)


The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (David Bowie, 1972)



Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles, 1967)




Blue (Joni Mitchell, 1971)


After The Gold Rush (Neil Young, 1970)



Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Leonard Cohen, 1967)


 Nashville Skyline (Bob Dylan, 1969)



The Band (The Band, 1969)

It's only fair to leave the last word with David Bowie himself. Here he is in 1973 on a TV show performing one of my favourite Aladdin Sane songs, Drive-In Saturday.  The thrill lives on:




Friday, 25 December 2015

I have reached the end of my 18 year musical journey - a special way to celebrate Christmas.

D


Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)

As some of you may know, I have been on a musical journey over the last eighteen years. I have been working my way through the history of Western Classical Music from the year 1150 with a view of finishing in the year 1897 with the death of Johannes Brahms. Well, that moment of completion arrived on Christmas Eve when I played Brahms' last compositions, the eleven Choral Preludes for organ, Opus 122 written in 1896/7 while the composer was suffering from his final illness and left tidily on his desk for his friends to find after his death.

It has been a momentous journey, one that I shall revisit and write about once it has all sunk in - if that can ever happen. I have been listening in chronological order to the music of some of all arts greatest exponents from the first great flourishes of Gregorian Chant through the magnificent flowering of Renaissance polyphony to the gigantic musical pinnacle that was J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel on through the parallel musical peak of the Classical First Viennese school of composers - Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert - to the great 19th Century Romantics,  Berlioz, Chopin and Schumann and the operatic giants Wagner and Verdi until I've now come to an appropriate conclusion with the death of the composer who was uniquely knowledgeable about the art of all his forebears, firmly committed to the tradition from which he had sprung but also alert to the possibilities and dangers that lay ahead , beyond the great 'Insurrectionist' Gustav Mahler to the composer who swam through seas of boiling water to mark the dawning of Modernist music, Schoenberg.

All that lies ahead for me now - some time next year I shall begin reading Alex Ross's monumental book on 20th Century music, The Rest Is Noise  (2007). There is, of course, much continuity from the 19th into the 20th Century but with the death of Brahms in 1897 (and Bruckner in 1896), this feels like an ending even if it is merely a marker on the great on-going progress of classical music which shows no signs of dying.

Saying farewell to the 'European Centuries,' I am now looking forward to the 'American Century' and the Age of Modernism, imagining myself like that great painter Mondrian who was turned on and excited when he first set foot in New York in 1940 after escaping, like so many other great European artists from the catastrophe that nearly destroyed Europe and European culture in the 20th Century.

So while mourning the death of Brahms, I am also celebrating his music and all that proceeded it but I am also dancing in expectation with Mondrian's thrilling Modernist painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942/4) and so many exciting developments in the arts that began in the 20th Century and framed my own personal cultural awakening.



Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942/43) by Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944)

For me the boogie woogie continues and I will approach each new work of genius with no little joy but also with some of the historical and cultural knowledge that characterised Brahms' commitment to the arts.

No one piece of music is big enough to represent these 900 years, the magnificent panoply of greatness that I have been listening to over the last eighteen years so it seems appropriate to mark the end of this epic project with something small but perfectly formed -  one of Brahms' last compositions, the choral prelude on the 16th Century Christmas hymn Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (A Spotless Rose) found on his desk with ten other choral preludes after the composer's death. Here it is played on the organ of Salisbury Cathedral by the German and appropriately young organist Sebastian Kuechler-Blessing:


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

In the mood for Christmas and Jacqueline du Pre.




I know that the week before Christmas in the UK isn't meant to be hot and sunny - this isn't Australia - so there really was no reason to find the recent grey wet weather depressing here in Lewes. That is why I didn't feel at all miserable when all that rain came down in my garden and sent me indoors yesterday for find alternative pleasures.

I am currently listening to Western classical music composed in the year 1897 and consequently I'm coming to the end of my long project of listening to music chronologically from the mid-12th century until the year 1899. On a wet day in Lewes, I found the perfect music. It was time to listen to the great and often lamented cellist Jacqueline du Pre in the recording of Richard Strauss' glorious symphonic poem, Don Quixote where the solo cello plays the eccentrically poignant fantasist knight and where the old man found his ideal interpreter in the sensational cellist star from the 1960s and 70s. The recording was unintended and we owe the technician who flipped a switch when du Pre and the conductor Adrian Boult did a run-through  for the concert that they were rehearsing after the intended conductor Otto Klemperer (who was either ill or grumpy) walked out not only on the concert but the scheduled recording. Well done the man who turned on the tape machine and giving us a performance that is all the more ghostly by capturing this great artist in a moment of passionate intensity in a career that was so cruelly cut short by illness. The bravo at the end is from a moved Adrain Boult. I've supplied a short except from the end of the piece (the death of Don Quixote) as a taster for anyone interested in getting themselves a copy of this great performance.





Friday, 4 December 2015

It's a Yes Please from me for the new Octopuses album.




I have a rock'n roll son called Adam Bell and, in case you've missed it, his band is called Octopuses and they have a new album, Yes Please, released this week... here it is, below,  on my desk and,  yes, I have to say, fatherly bias or no, I'm loving it.




Last night I was invited to the album launch in Brighton and, yes,  I said, yes please. So I went along and, yes, it was terrific to hear these songs live as well as on the addictive recording.


Here are a few smartphone photos that I took when I made my way, with maybe only a slight loss of cool,  to the front to capture the moment.  I may have focused a bit strongly on my son Adam but, yes, he is the guy on vocals just loving the microphone as well as the lime light but all the Octopuses are great musicians and none of them shrink from those lights. Yes, it was an inspirational night.








Here are videos of two of the songs from the album so, yes, please take a look at them to get some idea of their off-the-wall style and the musicality that is there under the humour:




You can listen to the whole album on Spotify if you follow the link below:

https://play.spotify.com/album/4lFB0tMeHUlLc91FffuwyM

You can also buy it as a CD or as a download from Amazon - if you want my advice say Yes, Please and get yourself a copy.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Octopuses+Yes+Please


Thursday, 3 December 2015

No pretence - hand on heart: I'm thrilled to have my Fibonacci poem nominated for The Pushcart Prize.





I'm thrilled this week to be told that I've been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize by American publisher Musepie Press who have been publishing my poetry in two of their journals, Shot Glass Journal and The Fib Review since 2009.


The nominated poem, Visitation, is published with three of my other new Fibonacci poems in the new issue of The Fib Review which has now published 57 of my Fibs, short poems written to a syllable count according to the Hindu-Arabic numerical system introduced to the West by the Medieval mathematician Leonardo Bonacci (c.1170 - c.1250), known as Fibonacci.


Fibonacci's statue in Pisa.


The Fibonacci Sequence finds a pattern in numbers - one that is repeated in nature but which can also be an exacting but satisfying master for short form poetry. It has been my personal passion for some years now discovering how varied the possibilities are in writing within such a tight set of criteria.



My Pushcart nominated poem, Visitation can be found by following this link:

http://www.musepiepress.com/fibreview/colin_bell1.html

So thank you Musepie Press, on behalf of all Fibonacci poets,  for nominating my poem.

Here is some information about the Pushcart Prize:
'The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America.

Since 1976, hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in our annual collections. Each year most of the writers and many of the presses are new to the series. Every volume contains an index of past selections, plus lists of outstanding presses with addresses.

The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60's and 70's. Our legacy is assured by donations to our Fellowships endowment.'

Here's the link to the Pushcart Prize website:

http://pushcartprize.com/index.html

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving USA





It's Thanksgiving in the USA today so I thought I'd look through a few of my photographs taken there over the years - they are in no particular order and i'll leave you to guess the locations.