The Singing Cabbie

I am still keeping an eye open for interestingly decorated taxis. I’m looking through the archives to see when I first started noticing such taxis, when they started getting to be interestingly decorated, that kind of thing. In 2008, it would seem I wasn’t noticing such things at all. But today, out in Victoria Street, I hit the taxi advertising jackpot:

It’s not that good a photo, but it’s a great taxi-with-advert.

I was mystified at the time, but knew that, since I was photoing a website address as well as a taxi, that the mystery would be cleared up as soon as I got back home.

Long story short, he really is a singing cabbie. Let me spell this out. He drives a taxi. And, he sings. And, he sometimes does both at the same time. And as is appropriate for a songster, he is also on Twitter.

I love London.

Taxis with adverts – July to December 2019

I know I know. There’s only one person in the whole world who likes clicking through huge collections of photos of London taxis with adverts on them. Me. But such galleries of persuasive transport are now easy for me to put up here, and have always been easy for you to ignore, so here’s another, consisting of fifty-four taxis-with-adverts photoed by me in the latter half of last year:

Photo 49, bottom row, number four, features Ms Calzedonia, a shapely lady with writing on her legs. But even my original 4000×3000 photo did not enable me to discern what this writing says and my googling also proved insufficient. Anyone?

Also puzzling, merely from my photo number 40, is “Duolingo”, but this was easy to learn about, and pretty easy to guess. It’s for learning a new language.

Howard Goodall on the world’s first recording star

I’ve been dipping into Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs, which is a book (based on a BBC TV show), whose subtitle is “The Story of Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History”. I have started at the end, with Bang Number Five, which was when Edison recorded sound. Here’s what Goodall says about the impact of the nascent sound recording industry on the life and career of Enrico Caruso (pp. 218-220):

Enrico Caruso was one of seven children born to a working-class Neapolitan family living in the Via San Giovanello. He received his first singing instruction as a choirboy in a local church, and as a teenager he made a few lire every night singing favourite Neapolitan songs for the cafe customers on the harbour waterfront. He began work in a factory, but eventually he was able to turn professional with his outstanding voice. After a shaky debut in Naples – he vowed never to perform there again – he was invited to sing at the holiest of all opera’s shrines, La Scala, Milan. It was here in March 1902 that Fred Gaisberg, the Gramophone Company’s European representative, heard Caruso performing in Franchetti’s popular opera Germania. Gaisberg offered the young unknown a deal to record ten arias for £100; Caruso duly accepted the offer, to the horror of Gaisberg’s London office, which tried to forbid the spending of ‘this exorbitant sum’. Gaisberg, however, backed his hunch, using his own money. That April, in Suite 301 in the Grand Hotel, Milan, the ten records were cut, beginning with ‘Studenti, Udite’ from Germania. Gaisberg went on to recoup his investment thousands of times over – and the records earned his company a fortune.

Most of the ten masters made on that occasion remain in perfect condition to this day. After their release, Caruso’s fame spread dramatically throughout Europe and America. He made two recordings, in 1902 and 1907, of the aria ‘Vesti la giubba’, from Leoncavallo’s opera I Pagliacci, which between them sold over a million copies. I Pagliacci was at this time a relatively new opera (it was given its first stage performance in 1892), based on a recent real-life criminal case. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent for this – a modern opera being as commercially successful as I Pagliacci. Even the hit records released from the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber are based on stories from the past (Evita is probably his most contemporary non-fiction subject). As for the work of contemporary ‘classical’ composers, the thought of Harrison Birtwistle writing an opera which included a million-selling song is, let’s face it, laughable.

Caruso was to the early gramophone what Frank Sinatra or Maria Callas were to the LP, what Elvis Presley and the Beatles were to the 45-rpm ‘single’, and what Dire Straits and George Michael were to the compact disc: the ‘software’ of the music that drew listeners to the ‘hardware’ of the machines and materials. He was the first recording megastar, as much a household name in his day as Charlie Chaplin, prodigal son of another medium also in its infancy. Caruso’s voice had a timbre and range that perfectly suited the limitations of the medium, it could soar and tremble with such strength and depth that the background hiss and the indistinct accompaniment were all but forgotten. To many people, hearing him scale the summits of high opera was both miraculous and moving and this was not just their first experience of the true potential of the gramophone but also a gateway to the whole classical repertoire.

Edison’s humble contraption was to become a universal gift with the popularity of Caruso, catapulting classical music out of the small, exclusive world it had hitherto known.

The Gramophone and Victor Companies were buoyed by Caruso’s success. What’s more, all the other top singers now wanted a piece of the action, hurriedly dropping their objections to the quality of the medium once they realised that it could make them rich. The female equivalent of Caruso was Nellie Melba, an Australian soprano with a peach of a voice, and a good head for business, who held out until she got £1,000 – and her own label in passionate mauve.

Perpignan photos

A year ago yesterday I was in St Cyprien, and a year ago today I was in Perpignan. However, I was in Perpignan again on January 9th of this year, when the weather was much better and hence so were my photos. Here is a selection of the photos I took then, there:

Not only was the weather better last January than it had been in April of last year; there was also a temporary Wheel in place (photos 20, 21, 22, 26). And (see photo 9) there was an exhibition on of some photos by former President of France Jacques Chirac. How about that?

A feature of any visit to Perpignan is, or should be, a journey to the department store called Galeries Lafayette (the big white building in photo 18), the views from the top of which are excellent (photos 19-28). The views on the way down from the stairs are pretty good too (photos 28-30).

Other than that, it was the usual. Amusing signs in French, roof clutter, strange plants, pollarded trees, various sorts of sculpture ancient and modern, bridges, left over Christmas signs, a motorbike. All good stuff, and all looking much better in the much better light there was in Perpignan on April 9th. Click and enjoy.

Violinist outside Westminster Abbey

This afternoon. Given what he was doing, and given that I put £2 in his violin case, I hope you agree that him being totally recognisable is okay, although I have no idea who he is:

He looks happy.

I seem to recall he was playing the Londonderry Air.

Behind him, you can just about make out two of the flagpoles in Parliament Square, and behind them, Portcullis House.

Happy Birthday Dear GodDaughter2!

Happy Birthday is the worse song there is, because you only ever hear it sung by people who would never, never otherwise attempt choral singing. But this song, they do attempt, with a combination of extreme shitness and the excruciating embarrassment that comes with everyone knowing that they are perpetrating extreme shitness upon one another. This ghastly song reaches its nadir of ghastliness with that high note towards the end: Happy Birthday dear … whoever. Ghastly. Totally, totally ghastly. I have never heard Happy Birthday not sung ghastlily.

And then came last night. Last night I attended GodDaughter2’s birthday party, here. GodDaughter2 is studying how to sing, at the Royal College of Music, and so were the majority of those also present at the party. Oh, there were some civilians present, but the heart of it was singers. So there I was just sitting there, spouting rubbish to some poor defenceless singer, who had to listen to me because I am GodDaughter2’s Godfather, when, guess what: Happy Birthday starts up, behind me. I do not turn to look, thank goodness, because I am a very poor judge of singing when I am looking at it being sung. I just listen. And as soon as it gets under way, I realise that, for once, the Happy Birthday bit at the end is going to be sung not just non-shittily, but actually well, really well. So I don’t just enjoy that bit when it finally arrives, I am able to relish beforehand how good it was going to be. It was the opposite, in other words, of how Happy Birthday usually happens, when all present know beforehand how shit it will be, especially the last bit. and then have to listen to how shit that last bit especially duly is.

So Happy Birthday last night was … well, St Matthew Passion, eat your heart out. It was glorious. The high note was nailed to perfection by all who attempted it, and there were also harmonies. And I did not see this coming. I had forgotten all about Happy Birthday. It all happened in a rush. And when something that is usually ghastly is instead glorious, the glory is at least twice as glorious.

The entire party was, so far as I could judge after one champagne and two pints of lager (to get how that would be for you, multiply by three – I have a low alcohol threshold): really good. But even if the only thing about it that was good had been Happy Birthday, it would still have been great to have been there.

On reading about it without having to experience the bloody thing

All of us who know anything of the broader picture of art and its history have what we know to be blind spots, in the form of things we know to have merit, to be significant, to have an intelligent audience, but which we personally can’t stand. Great, great, glad you love it, just don’t make me look at it, listen to it, etc.

My big artistic blind spot is jazz. Especially recent jazz, jazz perpetrated in my own life time, by drugged up artists more concerned with hiding from the shambles of their ruined and soon-to-end lives than with making proper tunes for a potentially wider audience. There you go. I can’t even write about jazz – can’t even think about it – without hurling abuse at it. (Early and badly recorded jazz with proper tunes, that I quite like. But, like many who hate a lot of classical music but might also strongly like some of it, I know too little about it all and don’t know where to start.)

Today, however, it occurred to me that there are plenty of things which I can’t stand actually experiencing, but which I love to read about. Most of history is ghastly, but I like reading history. And consider, in particular: war. I’d hate to actually be in a war, but I love to read about war, all the more so because war is so bloody horrible and I can congratulate myself on having throughout my life totally avoided all direct involvement in it.

Prompted by an amazon.co.uk email (amazon already knowing of my interest in a particular musical author (see below later in this sentence)), I have just ordered a couple of books by Ted Gioia, about jazz. (I quoted Gioia on the subject of JS Bach in this earlier posting here.) That way, I can learn lots about jazz, without having to listen to the bloody stuff.

Urban picturesque

Indeed:

Photoed by me in September 2013.

I have labelled this photo “NearlyEverything” because for me, it has nearly everything. Scaffolding, roof clutter ancient and modern, a crane, Magic Hour light, the lot. Well, not the lot, there are things I like that are not present in this photo. But a lot of the lot.

There is even present a favourite item of London public sculpture, in the form of the statue of Mercury that adorns a building on the north bank of the River called Telephone House. If you follow that link, you’ll learn nothing about this sculpture being there. But it is.

Googling for “mercury statue” is greatly confused by the fact that a statue of pop singer Freddie Mercury has recently been on display outside the Dominion Theatre, across the road from Centre Point.

Michael McIntyre speaks for me

And for many others, I’m very sure:

I found this here.

I am Old, but I have made enough friends among the Young for me to be able to twist Young arms and mostly get them to do all this for me. The other day a Young Person agreed to get a copy of this CD for me. (I only buy CD’s on line from Amazon, and this CD is not on Amazon.) If I had tried to buy this CD, I would probably have spent longer failing to accomplish this than I will take listening successfully to the CD.

One of the things I like about living in London is that if I want to buy tickets for something, I can go there beforehand, and buy them, the twentieth century way.

Increasingly, I find that trying to visit any “visitor attraction” is starting to resemble trying to get on an airplane. And as McIntyre explains, booking beforehand on your computer is just as bad.

A good bit, concerning those never-read “terms and conditions”:

I’m slightly worried that in five years time iTunes are going to show up at my door and say: “We own this house now.”

And don’t get me started on passwords. Just watch him speaking (for me) about passwords.

I don’t know why there are big black bits above and below Michael McIntyre. If anyone can suggest a way to get rid of these that I am capable of doing, I would be most grateful.