Monthly Archives: January 2010

Barcelona apartments

Barcelona apartments, originally uploaded by still awake.

Midlake: the Courage of Others (more a promotion than a review)

Just thought I’d post a fleeting thought about a band that caught my interest this week. I heard Midlake for the first time on Monday 25 January. I was at the cinema and the song Roscoe was playing before the movie started. The song was mellow with a classic rock sound and the band are compared to Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes in the Guardian. I love Bon Iver and while not a huge fan of the latter band I do like the acoustic, haunting, folksy sound.

The Guardian has instructions on how to download five tracks in their paper today, a review for their new album ‘The Courage of Others‘ posted on 28 January 2010, and an interview with the band on the same day.

I haven’t heard the album yet but Maddy Costa gives it four stars out of five and suggests the following about its sound:

Rooted in the minor key, the songs tangle argumentative guitars with portentous mutterings of prog-influenced flute.

The interview published on the same day indicates that Tim Smith is a fellow saxophonist and while my alto spends its dusty days under the bed rather than making music maybe his does too:

saxophone is cool but I wish I had picked up a guitar and checked out Black Sabbath in high school

“The Courage of Others” will be released 1 February 2010 in the UK and Europe, and 2 February 2010 in the US. They are on tour in the UK from 15 February 2010 but no listings for Bristol unfortunately.

Looking out towards Clifton

Looking out towards Clifton, originally uploaded by still awake.

A chilled Cloak and Dinner

Friday night dining was an improptu and hopeful event.I was out with a friend for a quick drink at the Big Chill bar and on the way there passed Quay Head House. I knew about the Cloak and Dinner restaurant (open 27 to 30 January) from reading reviews by Bristol Culture and EatBigBristol who ate there the previous evening. I wanted to see Belleruche play at the Big Chill bar at 11pm but it was 7.30pm and we guessed there would be plenty of time to go, wait, eat (hopefully) and then come back.

We knocked on the door and were let in (bolts sliding open on the inside) only to be told that they were fully booked but that we were welcome to wait in the lounge until a table became available. The people there were friendly and we were given a gin and tonic and the advice to keep an eye on the website. The aim was to find beautiful buildings and use them as restaurants. The room had low lighting and plates with pistacchios and cashews were  littered around on the tables. A lamp in the corner had a colourful shade in tones of grey black and red. There was artwork on the walls and while we sat a new painting was placed behind me with the comment ‘I hope it doesn’t fall on you’. Luckily it didn’t.

As lovely as the setting was, the temperature was cold and I didn’t take off my jumper and was tempted to keep my jacket on as well. The smoking policy was enjoyed by my companion and the young female students sitting across from us. They kept their jackets on.

The dress of the customers and the staff was varied. There was a charming, gleeful, almost bohemian tone to those involved with the restaurant, while others looked ready for a night out. I was in work clothes, friend in jeans and everyone seemed to fit in among the top hats and the fake moustaches. The staff member greeting people had a suit on, stockings and one trouser leg rolled up to the knee. The music downstairs was arranged by a guy with a laptop and iTunes. Same upstairs.

Three gin and tonics went by and two hours later we were tired of being cold and hungry and decided to leave. We left ten pounds for our drinks but the man with the reservation book asked us to stay for just a little longer. People are starting to leave now and there should be some space soon. We were told we could share a table with some of their friends and we agreed and sat back down. He passed back the ten pounds and said donate it at the end if you want and smiled.

About 20 people soon left the restaurant so there was a table available and we didn’t have to share. The room upstairs was friendly and brighter than the lounge while the atmosphere was pleasant and comforting. People didn’t look up and the view of the city was grimy through the windows but we relaxed. Behind us was a table of older people and we marvelled to the waitress that the clientele was so varied. She agreed and then told us the table behind us were actually the chef’s parents. Still.

Billie Holiday sang that her baby don’t care for high rise places and our order was explained and taken and the jazzy, mellow mood was set. We ordered the Borscht soup and then starters of filo pastry with some topping which I can’t remember. The soup was firm and textured with cabbage and beetroot, topped with sour cream and dill. It was served in a tea cup and there was only one spoon on the table but my friend used his fork and it was just as effective.

The soup was hearty and well-seasoned. Not too sour and not too sweet. The red wine in the unmarked bottle was light and slightly dry, a Chianti perhaps. The starters ran out so we skipped that course.  We ordered one each of the mains which were venison with salt pork slow cooked and bean casserole. The intention was to share but I was only allowed one bite of venison before he announced that I was having no more, he loved it. The bean casserole was just as good, if not better, and there was a dumpling of some sort which the waiter said was flavoured with thyme. Very nice.

The bean stew sat on a cabbage leaf on top of a parsnip mash. The portions were moderate in size which suited perfectly as we also ordered dessert to end the meal. The waiter collected our dishes and while Elvis crooned that he didn’t want no other love, the girls from two tables away grabbed our cutlery because their table had none. We all laughed and no one questioned the re-use of the forks and knives, well not out loud. Dessert was a choice between vegan banana cheesecake and a Canterbury apple tart. Both were light and tasty. The vegan cheesecake was intriguing and had dark chocolate melted with whole hazelnuts on top of grated banana.

Tables filled up around us but there were still some empty ones at ten o’clock. Two men with shaved heads and black leather jackets sat down in the corner and one said to the other ‘this is nice isn’t it?’.

The food was very good and the setting and the ambience of the place was even better. We talked to four or five of the staff volunteering there and they were all enthusiastic, open and friendly. We were told that while the restaurant was a squat, all the appropriate regulations were followed and it was legal. Something was mentioned about the bills being paid and procedures being followed. The staff were happy to be there and it showed.

The squatting scene does bring a welcoming atmosphere but it doesn’t do much for heat. The hot water taps didn’t work in the bathroom downstairs where the facilities are shared by men and women. A broken toilet door has a sign that politely suggests people knock before they enter and the hall is lit with candles and overhead lighting.  We left in a great mood and felt as if we’d shared our experience with the people working there and not just been served.

We didn’t get to see Belleruche around the corner because the queue was long and the night was cold. I heard the band play a little when they did their sound check however and they sounded great – the vocals were huskier and the guitar was lighter than on the cd. My evening started with Kathrin deBoer singing ‘I fell for you’ and ‘some things just ain’t meant to be there’. I guess that’s how it ended as well. The restaurant is there for one more night (tonight) and then it won’t be there. The beautiful building will be left empty once more but I’ll keep a look out for the restaurant which will surely pop-up somewhere around Bristol again.

Lloyds Bank in the snow, Bristol

Review: Lovers on the Road

The mini film festival Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers is currently showing at the Watershed in Bristol. I saw Lovers on the Road on Monday 25 January 2010.

The cinema is small and comfortable and there are only a few of us waiting for the movie to start. The movie ticket was £3.50 and I am the only person in the second row. My jacket is flung over the seat to my right, my bag is to my left and I am comfortable in my chair and ready to drift away. Midlake by Roscoe plays before the movie starts and it seems as if there could be no place more mellow than this room.

The lights dim, the curtains slide open and a girl is packing a suitcase in a room that has a garish pastel blue wall. She’s harried and frenzied and a silent young man stands behind her. There have been no trailers yet so I assume that this is a cheaply made anti-piracy promotion of some sort. Nope. This is the movie and it takes some effort to suspend disbelief due to the quality of the production.

There is little communication and the two main characters easily depict the pleasant lack of intimacy while indicating a yearning for something more. By easily, I mean they act as if they are in a high school production of a play. I feel as if I can almost read the stage directions: [put arms around Lei] [Lei stands still] [Lei shrugs off arms and walks away]. The acting is disjointed and comforting at the same time. I slip into its Beijing pace now and then but occasionally I am jolted back to my seat in the Bristol cinema.

I find parts of it charming but I can’t tell if certain scenes are meant to be funny on purpose. There is a security guard who buys and eats an ice cream and fans himself,  I assume, to indicate [show don’t tell] that the temperature is hot in Beijing. Not quite sure what the heat adds to the story and Lei’s t-shirt and shorts worn throughout the 75 minutes could have been enough of a depiction.

The theme is detachment and estrangement and there is little music to the soundtrack, instead there is mostly a buzzing noise of constant city sounds. The couple live in a one bedroom apartment which has a broken window on which Lei slices her hand. There are scenes of her alone in a similar way to Lost in Translation with Scarlett Johansson, although while the latter was actively depicted in a sexual way [see opening scene of Scarlett’s bottom] Lei is female but not selling her femininity.

One of the [perhaps] comic moments occurs when a woman drags her into a hair dresser’s and  she quickly runs out when a man appears with scissors. She walks back in a few moments later and has her long tresses cut down to how her hair was when she first met her boyfriend. Starting afresh and all that.

The physical contact is as detached as the relationship between the characters and the only overt friendliness for the main character occurs between her and a Japanese man, Masa, she meets at a bar. Lei isn’t a journalist but is interviewing people about why they moved and what they missed about the place they left. Adam from Sheffield misses the fact that people in England can drive; Masa misses the moment that has just gone.

Lei’s partner turns to her as they sit by a river and asks why doesn’t she interview him. He reminds her that he has moved away from home as well and she laughs. “I never thought of that” she replies and she listens to his answer, when she is far from him, in a hotel room. He misses her and it’s a reminder that they are out of sync. Lovers on the Road is choppy and intimate at the same time. The scenes are mostly close-ups and the characters seem to crowd the screen.

There are only three songs in the movie and one of them plays over the end credits. The silence and lack of communication prevail and the rough edges to the acting help the film’s message. Walking the same path and having the same experiences with someone doesn’t mean that it’s a smooth journey or even that you’re sharing it. “You always miss the things I notice” she says and while he fails to respond she is off on a trip with someone else.

I wonder if the ‘visible secret’  is that we walk alone even when we are together? I’m not sure but the movie was thought provoking, my evening was enjoyable and the trip home was close but not lonely.


Barcelona, originally uploaded by still awake.

The view from the Barcelona Port on a sunny Monday afternoon.