Friday, April 27, 2007

ROSTROPOVICH - 1968 PROM EXCERPT

I wrote a piece a couple of days ago about the visit my wife and I made to the Proms Concert in London, England in August 1968 where, on the very night that the Russians had rolled their tanks onto the streets of Prague to put an end to the liberal push by Czech Prime Minister Dubcek, Rostropovich played, with amazing poignancy, the Dvorak Cello Concerto in London.

Tonight, he has died.

I’m nowhere near qualified to comment, but the passing of his huge personality and his magical ability to coax such amazing sounds from his cello, like no other, has brought me to a stop.

I’ve just been listening to a programme on BBC Radio 3, where Sean Rafferty led an hour long tribute to the man. I have to say, in defence of a charge that nowadays Britain is sometimes losing the plot a bit, that this programme, which goes out from Monday to Friday, for two hours from 5pm until 7pm, is an absolute beacon of excellence. I don’t listen to a lot of international radio, but if there is a comparable programme anywhere else, you are very lucky indeed.

Tonight, in his programme, Sean Rafferty interviewed Julian Lloyd-Webber, another very good cellist and brother of Andrew, who was also present at the August 1968 Rostropovich concert (probably with much better seats than ours!) and Nicholas Kenyon, who was, one time, BBC Controller of The Proms (a very big Cheese indeed!). They played a priceless piece, which was the actual Sarabande from the 3rd Bach Cello Suite, which Rostropovich played that night as an encore to the Dvorak Cello Concerto. The gems that are secreted away in the BBC’s archives never cease to astound me. Anyway, I sat there transfixed listening to this, as I had 39 years ago.

The BBC run a system where you can listen to all their major programmes on-line for the next seven days following their transmission, and you can get access to it on
www.bbc.co.uk. Follow the link to Radio 3, and Listen Again, and select the programme “In Tune” for Friday, 27th April. The programme lasts for two hours, and the 1968 concert excerpt is around 30-35 minutes into the programme.

If you want to hear something that will reduce you to absolute silence, just find it and listen.
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

ROSTROPOVICH 1968 - MY LIFE'S MOST DRAMATIC CONCERT

A small piece in the newspaper today notes that Mstislav Rostropovich, the great Russian Cellist, is very ill in hospital. It seems strange that only a couple of days ago, I wrote a piece about another cellist, Jaqueline Du Pre, and the Elgar Concerto, and here we are today, brought up short by thoughts about the 79 year old Russian.

He was central, to me, in what was simply the most dramatic Concert I have ever experienced. Back in 1968, we lived near London, and being relatively “free agents” ie no children, could catch the train up to London to enjoy whatever was on, and London, then as now, usually had the pick of the country’s entertainment. The date was 21st August, and it was my wife’s birthday. We had bought tickets to a concert at the Albert Hall.

The day turned out to be one of those days – for some time, the Russians had been pushing their military into Czechoslovakia, to quell the liberal regime of Alexander Dubcek. But that afternoon, it had all come to a head and the Russians had made their dramatic move and had planted tanks on the streets of Prague. There was a real air of fear and betrayal which, even in London, you could feel as you walked around.

The concert, and I will remember the programme until I die, was to be performed by a Russian Orchestra, conducted (I think) by Rozhdestvensky. They were playing music by Russian composers - Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla Overture”, and the Shostakovich 10th Symphony. The soloist that evening was Rostropovich, who by an amazing stroke of irony (or totally brilliant programme planning!) was playing the Czech composer Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

When we reached the Hall, there were anti-Russian demonstrations going on all around the outside, and for a while I thought the concert would be cancelled, but no – it went ahead, and we wound our way up to the Gods, high above the orchestra. To say the atmosphere inside the hall was electric was an understatement - you could cut it with a knife. The start of the concert was delayed by the demonstrators in the hall, led by Tariq Ali making their heartfelt point. You felt in the presence of a small bit of history, and it really got the heart racing.

I don’t know if it is wishful thinking, but, in my mind, I can hear the music even now. To say the least, it was powerful stuff, with the Shostakovich also being, on the night, an utterly inspired choice.

You couldn’t see the details from up where we were, but people said Rostropovich was playing this fiercely Czech music with tears streaming down his face. Here was a man who clearly felt his country had let him down, and, years later, he ended up being exiled from the USSR and having his citizenship revoked. All in all, an evening which even now I can remember as exhausting, but very uplifting.

Anyone who wants to hear the Concerto should head straight to the Rostropovich/Karajan version – it’s a bit like the Du Pre Elgar piece in that it comes top of every recommendation you will read - interestingly recorded in the same year as the concert, 1968.


THE RECORD COVER TO LOOK FOR!

One of a couple of dozen Classical recordings which will be in everyone’s Top Choices. A recording of majesty and power, serenity and great dignity. If you find a better one, give me a call, but I won’t be holding my breath!

It’s not the same recording, but YouTube has a set of 10 minute snippets (just like the old 78s where you had to turn the record over every few minutes!) of Rostropovich playing it. If you want to hear the rest of it, just search for the other 5 excerpts. I’ve put in Section 4, which covers the closing few minutes of the Slow movement below, so just click on the centre arrow.


ROSTROPOVICH - THE LAST FEW PAGES OF THE SLOW MOVEMENT

DVORAK CELLO CONCERTO

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

IRAN, CRICKET AND THE SHROPSHIRE MUSEUM

It’s odd the way things that, to start with, seem completely unconnected suddenly coalesce in your mind, and from randomness, a pattern emerges. Three things have drifted across my mind recently which have come together, rather oddly, into focus.

Firstly, I watched with dreadful fascination the antics, and there seems no other word for it, of the guys who were taken hostage in Iran. Firstly we now have the i-Pod as an essential piece of kit for the British soldier, then we have a ship which doesn’t seem to know where it is, and an operational chain of command on the vessel which, to try and be fair without knowing all the facts, seems to have acted with less skill than the Navy has displayed in the past.

Then we have a strange display of responses from the 15 people captured, whilst in custody. You can’t put yourself in their place, and I’m sure their captors scared them witless, but, am I being unreasonable in thinking that they are supposed to be soldiers, one of whose job is to fight.

Then, the tawdry “story selling” episode.

Then we have people increasingly high up the MoD pecking order, who somehow seemed to come to a conclusion that making the stories available was acceptable.

Then, we get to Mr Browne, our Defence Minister, who apparently took a fleeting look at the issue over his Weekend Croissants, missed totally the political implications of this particular grenade, and promptly pulled out the pin.

And then to cap it, when the man goes before Parliament to explain himself, we have an opposition who cannot nail him to the mast (actually Lord Carrington might have done well for the Tories here), and an exquisitely constructed quasi apology which, if he had sat up as long thinking about the original issue as he did in formulating his weasel reply, would probably have prevented much of the political fall out he was trying to escape.

One of his arguments is that “No-one got hurt.” But that’s far, far too naïve a view. Foreign policy is subtle stuff, and the way nations “see” each other is a critically important part of one country’s standing in another’s eyes. This “perception” of one country by another is a vital component in the way international politics moves. And what we have done here, in spades, is to give Iran, a country where the political issues are most definitely going to get worse before they get better, the distinct feeling that Britain is a soft touch – so push a bit harder next time.

It’s not as if this is all new stuff. Just look at a couple of snippets of history.

Duke of Wellington (1810) - talking about how the enemy was looking at his troops – “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me”. He won.

Look at Kennedy and Khruschev in the Cuban Crisis. I recall as a simple 17 year old thinking for about 10 days that all the revision I had just put into my Latin Vocab was about to be vaporised into a ball of chalk (not sure about the chemistry there, but you know what I mean). Russia had to believe that Kennedy wasn’t going to blink, otherwise the balance of (Nuclear) power in the world was about to change quite abruptly. He didn’t blink, and who knows what effect that had on the way the world went on its way over the following couple of decades.

On a slightly lesser scale, look at the All Blacks Rugby team and the “Haka” they perform before each match. Why do you think they do that? It’s not because they’re trying to become a competitor for the Welsh male Voice choirs. Just look at the opposition when this noise is rending the atmosphere. That answers the question.

It’s all about perception, and what’s just happened in Iran has, from the small i-Pod, to Des Browne still remaining in the office of Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, has reduced our standing in the world, when, right now, we need exactly the opposite.

I’m on a roll now, and just in the mood to write something down about our Cricket team. So secondly, having just watched Sri-Lanka play New Zealand, and seen what cricket can produce, you have to sit and have a private weep at the England efforts over the past few weeks. It’s not just that we lost, because we simply were not good enough. But it’s the way we lost which gets at me – some of the team didn’t seem to want to win. Out of the whole squad, Collingwood and Pieterson stood out as good batsmen, Panesar was solid (but not much better), and, to me, Bhopara was the find of the series for England. But thank God for Paul Nixon. If you were up to your neck in muck and bullets, isn’t he just the man who you’d want alongside you? Excellent.

But that’s it. The rest were, to say the very least, disappointing, and when they needed to stand up and be counted, were out falling off pedalos instead.

So there’s two examples of where you, or at least I, have to wonder what’s going on. Now, it’s easy to sit hear and gradually morph oneself into one of the two guys who sit in the balcony of “The Muppet Show”. Actually, I think I’m actually becoming the one on the left, you know, the rugged (in a non Brokeback Mountain kind of way) looking one with the moustache. Sorry, I digress.

But there’s a serious point here – the third thread, which contrasts very starkly with the first two, and really gets me thinking.

I took my 8 year old Grandson into town last week, and we visited Shrewsbury Castle. This is home to the Shropshire Regimental Museum, where the history of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry is laid out. It’s not a large display, but there is a significant collection of letters, artefacts, snippets of the KSLI (and its predecessors) history, much of it on a personal level. Even the KSLI is not a regiment you would think of first when looking back at this country’s military history.

But the impact this had on me, compared to the two other thought trains of the Iran affair, and the English cricket team, was considerable. The quiet, dignified, understated but mentally strong approach which the Shrewsbury Museum gave out about the way one should conduct oneself in difficult times was in depressing contrast to the feelings I was left with after watching the other two. In this area, we have not progressed.

It was a rather moving and humbling experience.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF KENNEDY'S DEATH

The “Who killed JFK?” question has intrigued me, as the whole mechanism of Government in the Western World is increasingly seen as less than “lily-white”, when someone occasionally lifts the edge of the political carpet. The whole thing always seems to take on the feel of a John Le Carre spy novel, in that you simply do not know whom to trust, and who, if anyone, is the good guy in it all.

I wrote a couple of pieces a while ago in February, which picked up the issue of Watergate, Howard Hunt, one of the organisers of the botched raid which started off the whole Nixon resignation issue, and his wife, Dorothy, who herself died in “interesting” circumstances, where an open verdict is probably the best summary of the current “state of play”.

Hunt died earlier this year, and in the piece on him, I noted that “Howard Hunt’s autobiography is, apparently, just about to be published …….” with no real knowledge of what that really meant – I had a thought that he would use this book to get back at people from beyond the grave.

Now, if you delve into a recent Rolling Stone Magazine, and also last week’s Sunday Times, just look what you find. Howard Hunt’s son Saint, a self confessed, but apparently reformed, drug addict, telling a fascinating story about how his father apparently, shortly before his death, sat him down and spilt the beans about what he knew about Kennedy’s death.

There have been persistent rumours for ages that Hunt, who disliked Kennedy intensely, was in Dallas on the day Kennedy was shot. There is a picture, taken on November 22nd 1963, the day when Kennedy was shot, of three tramps walking in a line in Dealey Plaza, Dallas.


THREE TRAMPS, OR NOT?


Hunt’s son, Saint, says about one of the tramps (the third in line) in the picture “I’ve got a gut feeling it’s him”. Controversy has never died down about these pictures. The leading tramp is said to be Frank Sturgis, who just happened to be one of the men arrested in the Watergate building, setting the whole Nixon unravelling off. As one might expect, the Government denies this, but there is no conclusive evidence that proves where either Sturgis or Hunt were on that day.

He recalls that his mother told him Hunt was on a business trip to Dallas on the fateful day, and that some while after, he was woken by his father, who made him get out of bed one evening and help dispose of a suitcase of microphones, cameras and other equipment into the local River after cleaning any fingerprints off them. The following day, he goes on, he went with his father to a safe deposit, where Hunt “shoved about $100,000 cash down the back of his pants”. To this day, he says he does not know why these events occurred.

He goes on to record how, six months before he died, Howard Hunt, with only his son in the room, “began to write down the names of the men who participated in a plot to kill the president”. Saint claims he has the notes Hunt wrote, and says “It has all this stuff in it, the chain of command, names, people, places, dates. He wrote it out to me directly, in his own handwriting, starting with the initials ‘LBJ’ ”.

Saint Hunt, if you examine him as a character witness would seem to come up a bit short of the mark. After two drug convictions, and a very unusual life to date, he has apparently got his life together, but the relationship he had with his father was not a normal, typical Father/Son one. You have to wonder if this is all made up, with, perhaps, an eye on the main chance. The two people were not close for most of their lives, and Hunt Senior, seemed to think that his son was a waste. So why would he entrust such a dangerous set of information to someone, albeit his son, who he did not seem to respect.

The answer, of course, is that we shall probably never know. Almost all of the individuals involved are now dead, so corroboration is next to impossible. Hunt’s son may, or may not, be telling the truth.

But, for those of us whose trust in the integrity of Our Political Leaders is less than absolute, it gives another, rather delicious, twist to a story that, to my way of thinking, will live for ever.

If you want to follow this further, dial into "Rolling Stone" Website, and follow through Politics to 18th March in their Archives.
The writer of the article which sparked this off was Eric Hedegaard.


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WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME - No.11

This is on my Brother-in-Law's House.

It's a bit like "Beware of the Dogs" - but with a soupçon of style!

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

BACH - WITH BITE! - AND LOVE IN THE AIR

Many pieces of music only exist in one form – the First recording is the Last recording as well. Just think of the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction”. I’m not a pop-geek, but I’ve never heard another version (other than live Stones’ Concert versions) of that song.

The first five notes “De De, De De Deeh” are simply “IT”. In my humble opinion, Keith Richards would have gained immortality if those were the only five notes he ever wrote. To realise the power of that simple intro, have you ever measured the time it takes for a dance floor to fill completely when the DJ plays them? It’s measured in milliseconds.

But other pieces of music don’t work like that. I have been thinking about this after scribbling down some thoughts earlier today about Jacqueline Du Pre, and her playing of the Elgar Concerto.

Classical Music, far more than most Pop Music, almost lives on the interpretation. The music exists as the written score but it is only relatively recently that we know how the composer thought the music should be played. We had to wait until the likes of people like Rachmaninov and Elgar actually recorded their own works, to hear what they wanted the music to sound like. And even then, we may not have been hearing it at its best.

There is a simple view that, once the music exists, the maximisation of its performance impact usually lies in the hands of someone else. And, as is the way of things, people have for the length of recording history, taken several shots at recording a piece of music. This is all bound up with the issue that was bugging me about the Du Pre Elgar Concerto. Her version, brilliant though it is, is not the only way it can be played, and we must all keep an open mind on this.

Other pieces of music, where there is not so dominant a recording, often have twenty or thirty recordings available, and it is simply up to the listener to decide which is the best. There are many occasions where you have to choose between several versions, made at differing times in one interpreter’s life. At least this means that there is no one “Best” version of a piece.

Take an example. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I have four versions of this, one by Angela Hewitt (Brilliant!), another by Jacques Loussier (Curate’s Eggish), and two by Glenn Gould.

The Glenn Gould versions are the ones I want to refer to here. He made Version 1 in 1955, as a 23 year old. As a virtuoso piece, he brings Bach into the Twentieth Century with an amazing display of pianistic fireworks, which, being only nine the time of its release I was not aware, set the music world alight at the outstanding virtuosity of the performance.

As a person, Gould was an utterly outstanding pianist and a real eccentric, to boot. A Canadian, he recorded about 80 different pieces, but soon in his career, he gave up live performance, and only met his public via the recording studio. He had an absolutely individual take on whatever he played, and he was one of those rare artists whom, I suspect, you either revered or hated. His Beethoven Sonatas, I have to say, are a taste I have not yet acquired, but you simply cannot ignore the man. He thought the music through from his own ruthlessly logical point of view – if you liked it, then Great, if you didn’t well, you didn’t. His Bach however is out of the top of the Top Drawer.


GLENN GOULD PLAYING BACH - LOOK FOR THE DOG!

Note - The You Tube snippet above can be activated by clicking on the centre button, waiting for "Loading" to complete then pressing on the "Play" symbol in the bottom left hand corner.

If you want to hear and see Glenn Gould playing the 1981 Goldberg Variations, go to Google Video, search for Glenn Gould, and click on the 47 minute version of the Goldberg Variations - it's about the third one down. Quite amazing!

Although he hardly ever re-recorded anything, he made an exception with the Goldberg Variations, and in 1981, he went back into the recording studios, and did them again. Sadly, elliptically, and rather spookily, just after he recorded them again, he died.

To say the two versions were “Chalk and Cheese” hardly does the chalk or the cheese justice. The differences are immense. The first Aria takes almost twice as long in the 1981 version as the 1955 recording. The second one treats Bach as a human being, in places almost as a Romantic, whereas the first is almost fiendishly mechanical in its approach. Strangely, the later version seems to take far longer than the original, but, when you take out the beginning and ending Arias, and the 13 or so repeats which Gould observes in the 1981 version and not in the 1955 version, it actually takes a broadly similar overall time. What does come across in the 1981 recording is the Homogeneity of the work. The earlier one sounds like 30 almost unrelated variations – the latter version Seems all of a One.

There is a 3 disc set issued by Sony which contains both versions remastered, as well as a very revealing interview with Gould explaining why he felt the need to change his interpretation so radically. Quite enthralling, and if you ever want to understand why people change their views about a piece of music over time, just listen to that interview.

As I am sure you will realise, I think the 1981 version is streets ahead of the original 1955 version, but the point I’m trying to make here is that nothing is fixed in musical interpretation. Its very ephemeral nature is one of its most endearing features.

Even in Pop Music, you can see similarities. I happen to think Mark Knopfler is a truly gifted song writer and guitarist. He wrote a simple 3-minute song called “Romeo and Juliet”, released on an LP (Yes, it’s that old!) called “Making Movies”. Later on, particularly in his live performances, he built that song into the set, but, by the time he played these concerts, it had been totally changed from a 3 minute, bounce-along pop song, to a 12 minute long, slowly, wistfully and hauntingly performed work, which was so, so much more appropriate to the sentiments he was singing about. It had mood, presence, atmosphere, and to me became a great song when performed like that. Same lyrics, Same melody, but Lordy, Lordy, what a difference in impact.


DIRE STRAITS - ROMEO AND JULIET - THE LONG VERSION

By the way, the brilliant Saxophone solo is by Chris White - it lasts almost as long as the original song on "Making Movies"!

In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think. My opinion only matters to me, and it’s up to you to decide if you agree with what I’m saying. All I would suggest is you listen to both sets of “Before and After” recordings, and come to your own conclusions.

Then, the simple message behind the whole of this piece is to keep an open mind about how a piece of music sounds, however many times you hear it – you may even get to like the way The Sex Pistols sing “My Way”!

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ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART ........

I sat down this morning and listened to a piece of music I had deliberately not played for over a year – the Jacqueline Du Pre/Barbirolli Elgar Cello Concerto recording. It has been a top favourite of mine for over 40 years, and I have listened to it countless times since I bought it in the late 60s. To my mind, it stands out simply as one of the very best recordings I have ever heard.

JACQUELINE DU PRE


Minds greater than mine have commented endlessly on it, but the music Elgar wrote seems to me to be an “over the shoulder” look back at his life, wistful, contemplative, but in the end turning into a life affirming, forward looking statement. The choice of the cello for the solo part was simply spot on, the dark, autumnal tones of the instrument complementing the tone of the piece to perfection.

And this is one of those landmark records which has simply become the Standard by which all other performances of the work are judged. Even 40 years on, there are parts of her rendition which make me stop whatever I’m doing, to sit and marvel at the sounds playing around me. The point towards the end where she seems to have faded away to nothingness is quite extraordinary. A marvellous achievement.

But its simple availability, anytime, anywhere is the other side of the sword which, if you are not careful, can blunt its impact to the point where its power to astonish gradually diminishes. And the other insidious effect such a powerful rendition can have is to push alternative versions of it into the shade, by forcing a view in your mind that this is the only way that particular piece of music can be played – actually a good reason to listen to Radio 3!

I recall, a while ago, listening to a radio interview with Stephen Isserlis, another great British Cellist, where he talked about the difficulty of playing the Elgar Concerto, simply because he would be permanently judged when playing it against the “Du Pre Standard”. The reality, of course, is that music actually allows an almost infinite variety of playing styles, but this constant emphasis on one version is very much, not a good thing.

Hence my decision to avoid listening to it for a long period of time. I was hoping that the detailed imprint in my mind would dull over a year or so, and that when I next listened to it relatively afresh, I would hear it with new, or at least newish ears. And to some extent, that was true. It wasn’t a “new” piece of music, but it had a real degree of freshness caused by a year’s long absence, which simply wasn’t there when last I listened to it.

Just hit the Centre "Arrow" to load, then the small "Play" button in the left hand corner - 4 minutes of sheer brilliance will follow!



JACQUELINE DU PRE PLAYING, BARENBOIM CONDUCTING

JUST DIAL "du pre elgar" INTO YOUTUBE

AND FEAST YOUR EARS AND EYES FOR MORE

And that made me really quite pleased, because I’d worried that that remarkable feeling when, occasionally, you hear or read something for the first time, and go ”Wow”, had been lost for ever.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME - No.10

I have no idea how the local Highways Department makes its signs, although I suspest they have a set of standard sized templates, on which their craftsmen imprint the destinations they want.
Anyway, however they do it, you'd think when the guy doing this one saw the size of the blank sign he had in his hands, and the length of the name he was putting on the sign, he'd have made bloody sure that the gap which clearly had to go somewhere, would be at the end, and definitely NOT the beginning of the sign.

Wouldn't you?


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Friday, April 20, 2007

CREATIVE FREEDOM,OR "FIDDLING ABOUT" - YOU CHOOSE

My regular reader will have noticed, by now, my penchant for things Photographic. I suspect I am a frustrated artist, who, having tried and failed quite stunningly at drawing and painting, has taken up photography as a way to make some positive, personal progress in the Visual Arts.

Sprinkled through the various pieces on this Blog, you will find examples of my own personal photographic efforts. They sit alongside, although actually the word is most certainly “underneath”, the works of the great picture takers of all time.

As part of my interest, I belong to a local Photographic Society, where, at various times during our Meeting season, we are invaded by a Judge, who, comes along, looks at the Member’s pictures, critiques them, sometimes critically, sometimes constructively, and then picks the Best Picture of the night. Which is, of course, really means the Best Picture of the Night, in his opinion.

And, in the same way that football fans clearly like to disembowel the referee after a match which their team has just lost, the Club Members like to do the same with "The Judge" in the pub after such an evening – apart from the one guy whose pictures have just been selected by "The Judge" as The Best!

To make my position clear, I have decided that I am now officially Old Enough and Ugly Enough to contemplate Life carrying on, even when our Photographic God for the evening has suddenly fallen completely blind, taken complete leave of his senses and not selected my photographs as the best that night, when it was clearly obvious to the meanest intellect that there was only one true genius in the room. So the opinion of "The Judge" is now less important than once it might have been.

Now, on slightly another track, I give the occasional lecture to other Photographic Societies where I review Photography and its impact and influence on the World since its invention in the 1820’s. The great “photographic lurches forward” of 1- its Invention, 2- Kodak’s Bringing it to the Masses, 3 - The Invention of the small portable Leica-type camera and fast film, 4 - The Invention of the Colour film, are the first 4 Chapters in the Development of Photography over the last 180 years, but the latest “lurch”, where we are still in the midst of it, is the Digital Revolution.

Film is on its last legs, and the impact of the Digital Image is well in the throes of totally transforming the way pictorial images are being taken, distributed and used. Here I am writing in a digital form, showing you digital images, and if you look around the world, almost all images that you see are created and distributed via Digital means.
Almost the last bastion of the “analogue”, film image is the Photographic Society, of which there are many hundreds in this country alone. And The Judge who comes to adjudicate on our Member’s images is, more often than not, a skilled “film” worker, rather than a digitally based individual.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a well produced, usually Black and White Print, often produced after many hours of hugely skilled work in a Darkroom, is a most remarkable piece of work. I simply do not have these skills, and admire those that have enormously. And when we see one of these pictures being judged or critiqued, sometimes you feel quite humble when realising the skill which is involved in the final image.

But there is another side now – the ability to do the most amazing, creative things with an image, using Computer programmes, which allow an almost “Sky’s the Limit” approach to be applied between the original shot, and the image finally shown. This, in my humble opinion, should also be given its true weight.

All too frequently, The Judge, will look at a “Digital” image, and in a “damning with faint praise” style, see the changes wrought on the original image as “fiddling”, and to some extent, destroying the integrity of the original. Now, to my simple mind, the efforts of the person slaving over a hot keyboard using “Photoshop”, is identical to the darkroom worker, slaving over a hot Chemical Set. They are both trying to generate something artistic from a start-point of a basic image the photographer has taken. I see no difference philosophically between the two approaches – they are both Means towards Ends, and you should judge the final image, and not place the Darkroom Worker on a pedestal, whilst demeaning the “Photoshop” Fiddler who, by different means, has created the same thing – a personal work of Art.

The really exciting thing is that this new form of Creative Expression has become available in our lifetime. I welcome it with open arms, and get more than a bit cheesed off with those who see it as the work of the Devil. To me, it has allowed so much more personal input to be made into a photograph, where the aim of it all is to affect the emotions of others. You can now behave far more like a painter, where the constraints of the camera, and “The Image cannot Lie” approach has been so restrictive for so long. Even the phrase “The Camera cannot Lie” gives you a clue as to the restraint which photographic film has had on its users.

Now if, when taking a landscape, where there is, say, a telegraph pole in a landscape I’m taking, I can eliminate it, just like a painter might do, and produce, what to me, is a better result, or at least the result I want. In addition, there is a huge range of digital adjustments which can now be made, some of which mimic what’s achievable in the darkroom, and some of which do not. The simple result is that the User’s mind is freed up to “fly” in a way which simply wasn’t possible few years ago.

Why you’d ever want to push this amazing capability away is beyond me, but there are still some people who do not look on it favourably. I do think very much that it is a capability which needs to be used sparingly – “Less is More” is not a bad mantra to keep repeating to yourself when sitting in front of the Computer screen, but there are undoubtedly many areas where such post image manipulation can add something unique. It’s a bit like comparing the representational painting of someone like Canaletto with the paintings of Monet – both are magnificent, but, in spite of their differences, both have their place in the Visual Arts.

All of which is a much longer, rambling introduction than I had envisaged, to a set of four images which I took on a fleeting visit to Cardiff recently.

Cardiff has undergone a major transformation recently, and the new Civic Buildings there are clearly designed to put the city on the architectural map. The exterior of the concert hall is clearly aimed at reflecting the “Slate” image of the country, in the same way that Scotland so often is seen as a “Granite” country. Now, I don’t think the buildings there are of a quality where you come away saying “You’ll never believe the building I’ve just seen”. Not in the way you do after seeing such buildings as Richard Roger’s Lloyds Building (now 21 years old!), the Gehry Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or even, much closer to home and more prosaically, the new Selfridges in Birmingham

But they are new, distinctive and impressive. And because of the forward looking thoughts that creating new buildings such as these produce, I decided to play around with Photoshop to show images which had a bit more modern creativeness about them. That doesn’t mean you will necessarily like them, it just means that I’ve “fiddled” about with them a bit more than I would normally do.




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Thursday, April 19, 2007

WHAT'S A DEATH WORTH, IN FOOTBALL TERMS?

My current choice of a newspaper, and it has been this way for many years, is “The Times”. But when I look at the front page today, I wonder if we’ve all gone just a bit mad, and shouldn't I think about a change.

Judging the importance of news by column inch “real estate” on the paper’s front page, the reaction to the Virginia Tech Massacre, which claimed 32 lives, took up (albeit including a large photograph of a British teacher who apparently had warned the police about Cho Seung Hui two years ago) 24 column centimetres.

Among the lesser stories which were brought to our attention was a 38 word long summary (about 2 Column Centimetres) which explained how Arsenal football club was in “turmoil” after its Vice-Chairman had suddenly left the club yesterday.

And just underneath this story was one of the same length which told us that Four bombs had exploded in Baghdad yesterday, killing “nearly 200 people”.

When you follow up these stories inside the paper, you find that the Virginia Tech story is given a further 3¾ full pages, the Arsenal story merits (if that is the right word) around a further 3 full pages, and the story about how “nearly 200 people" were blown to bits in a city I thought we, and the Americans, were supposed to be safeguarding, is given another 2/3 of a page, plus an article commenting on the issue, by Bronwen Maddox.

I’m not even going to bother to work out and compare the Column Centimetres per death figures for the American and the Iraqi disaster, other than to guess that a factor of 10 or more is probably involved.

The really depressing thing to me here, is that the managerial goings on at an English Football club are deemed to be about six times more important to “The Times” that the bloody dismembering of nearly 200 souls in Iraq.

“The more I see of the Human race, the more I love my dogs.” I don’t know who said that, but today, I’m with them.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME - No.9

Taken in Newport, Gwent, showing the Town Council's latest Health and Safety inspired approach to Pedestrian control, next to (or rather in) the tidal River Wye.

You know it makes sense.

FORD F3L - MY CAR

I penned a piece a few days ago about Jim Hall, the driving force behind the amazing Chaparral Sports racing cars in the late 60s, and it got me thinking again about the idea of the “Art of the Racing Car”. I am not really sure where the idea of “Beauty” stands in relation to such a violent piece of machinery. You could take a view that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, or you could take a view that Function is the sole requirement of a car which simply tries to go round a circuit quicker than any other. The idea that if it does what it’s supposed to do better than any of the others, that makes it beautiful.

Personally, if you ask me to choose between the two, the answer is “Yes”. Both.

The designer can draw a car which satisfies my idea of aesthetic beauty. Look at the Gurney-Weslake Eagle and you will get a flavour of what I mean – its nose mimicking an eagle’s beak, the quite exquisite detailing on the chassis. If you ever get a chance to see one in the flesh, just look, for instance, at the fuel filler cap - it could win a design prize on its own.

But you can also build a car, which, simply because of its outrageous performance, is beautiful in another way. Look back at the Chaparral 2K Model which Jim Hall produced in 1970. It actually looked as if the front half of the car, and the back half, had been designed by two different teams of engineers who didn’t meet very often. But, judging it on the Function argument, it was a real beauty.

This piece is about a car which I think takes a lot of beating in the real “Whow, just look at that” Beauty category – the Ford F3L 3 litre sports racer (or P68 to give it its official designation).

It was produced very quickly following the end of the old Sportscar formula in 1967. Ford had just produced one of the greatest racing creations ever with the launch of the DFV V8 engine, and this was mopping up Formula 1 in an utterly dominating way. As a result, some bright spark had the brainwave that here was JUST the engine to power a Prototype sports-car for the new formula, which could blow all the other new cars into the middle distance.

Alan Mann Racing, with “a little help from their friends” designed and built the P68 machine which emerged just in time for two of them to enter the BOAC 500 Mile Endurance race at Brands Hatch in April 1968.

Now here I must “declare an interest”. At this time, I was studying Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College in London, and in the final year, every student undertook a large “rites of passage” type of project or dissertation. Given my fascination with Things Vehicular, I chose to investigate “Motor Vehicle Aerodynamics”. As part of my practical work, by means still not clear to me, I obtained a 1/6 scale model of a new sports racing car then under development, and was given this to test in one of the colleges many Wind Tunnels.

I’m sure you will see where this is all leading. The model I was testing turned out to be the P68, and I spent many happy hours looking at its drag and lift characteristics. As you can imagine, it became “my” car – I had played a small part in its development, and for a 20 year old, that really meant something.

PICTURES TAKEN IN 1967 IN IMPERIAL COLLEGE WIND TUNNEL OF MODEL ON TEST


When it was finally announced in the Press, the finished article simply took my breath away. Its feline, almost feminine grace was something I had never seen before in a racing car. To me, it was the most beautiful racing machine I’d ever seen, although perhaps, I was a tad biased!

And when it was clear that it was finally going to race, I shot down to Brands Hatch, to will it on. The rest of the story that day was a simple, unmitigated disaster. The plan apparently had been for one of the pairs of drivers to be Graham Hill and Jim Clark, but contractual commitments and obligations had intervened, and they went off to Hockenheim to race there. They were replaced by Bruce McLaren and Mike Spence. In the event, one of the two cars didn’t start, but the McLaren/Spence car was second on the grid.

As happened so often in those days, the cars had hardly turned a wheel, before being committed to the track. Sometimes it works – just read the debut of the Lotus 49 at Zandvoort the previous year – but most of the time, it doesn’t. And it didn’t at Brands Hatch that day. After, I think, a bit less than an hour, it stopped with a broken drive coupling. Bummer.

THE REAL THING - TAKEN AT BRANDS HATCH ON APRIL 7 1968

It was only after the event that the real catastrophe of the day became clear. Driving up the hill out of the circuit, I turned on the 6 o’clock news to hear the newsreader report that Jim Clark had been killed that afternoon at Hockenheim.

To me, Jim Clark was, and still is, the best driver I have ever seen in a car. His ultra smooth, calm, undemonstrative style of driving was so at odds with the speed he could produce. He was literally in a class of his own, and so much better than anyone else around him. And to hear that he had been killed in an inconsequential little race in the middle of Germany, when he should have been here at Brands Hatch, driving “my” car, and still been alive, was too much to bear. I remember pulling off the road, and sobbing my heart out.

After that day, Formula One ceased to be a passion. The price you sometimes paid was simply too high.

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WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME - No.8

The Marketing edge - Shropshire style!


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Saturday, April 14, 2007

"LET THEM EAT BREAD" - 'COS I'VE JUST MADE IT

“Cogito, ergo sum: Cogito, Dim Sum.” Latin for “I think therefore I am: I am what I eat.” Or something like that.

Yet another of the reports which constantly analyses us all to death tells us that the average person’s arsenal of recipes which they can cook is around five. Now assuming that, on the male side, there still remains a hard core of the “Get me dinner on the table, woman” type, who presumably do not trouble the scorers in such a review, that must mean for those interested in foody matters, the average is somewhat higher.

This is quite surprising as in my youth, in the 50s, cooking in my parent’s house was more like a refuelling operation, rather than something to nibble seductively away at one’s tastebuds. I suppose one of the major causes for this change, in addition to the explosion in foreign travel which has opened our eyes to the sight, smell and taste of cookery from other countries, has been the rise of the celebrity chef. Just after the Second World War, my mother had Mrs Beeton to guide her as well as the Good Housekeeping recipe books, but much of the cooking on which I grew up veered towards Woolton Pie* rather than Omelette Arnold Bennett.

Just around that time, Elizabeth David’s books appeared, and, over the next few decades, the trickle of cookery books gradually turned into a complete flood. TV picked up this theme, with Robert Harbin, Fanny Craddock (I seem to recall her once concluding a recipe with the phrase “Enough for one large Tart” – cheeky Bag!), The Galloping Gourmet, Keith Floyd, Delia, Nigella, Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and now Heston Blumenthal have been educating us all for nearly 50 years, with television doing what it normally does and distorting almost all of them into strange “personalities”, to keep the programme ratings on the boil.

For someone who has only turned his hand to cookery over the last few years, it has been fascinating to watch this motley crew retrospectively in action on the innumerable cookery “GastroPorn” channels on television. I’m not sure how much you really learn from watching many of the showbiz antics of some of them, but it is always intriguing to put the visuals away, and look at or try what they are really there for – their recipes. If I’d tried everything they cooked, I’d be the size of a small town by now, so I’ve only had a go at a small selection of what’s on offer from them.

The strange thing is, there are some chefs you see where I hardly fancy anything they put in front of us, whereas there are others whose offerings almost always get me salivating. This applies not just to the cookery programmes, but the books that they all write as well.

Garry Rhodes, Ainsley Harriet and AWT, I simply can’t hit it off with. Heston Blumenthal seems to live in a parallel universe to the one I inhabit, and I simply don’t warm to his cookery at all. I love Rick Stein, and, like most men, have this dark hankering for Ms Lawson to come round and show me how to cook just about anything. I admire Saint Delia, and Christmas in this house has mainlined on the good lady’s recipes for many years now. I can take or leave the rest, apart for Gordon Ramsay, whose recipes in The Times, I always seem to be cutting out with an “Ooh, I fancy that!” comment.

But there’s one guy who tops the lot for me. In terms of TV, he’s probably one of the least good, but, read his cookery books, and then try his recipes, and that’s the reason I’m a total fan.

Nigel Slater.

His writing is, by a country mile, the best of the lot. He writes in a language as if he’s sitting across the table, discussing a particular dish, with a glass of wine in his hand. No pretension, no bullshit, and he makes the whole thing come to life in a way no other writer does for me.

He also seems to want to cook things which almost always gets me drooling, simply by reading the words on the page. None of this “First, skin one’s Ox…” approach. He cooks things that we all like to eat, but with a twist which makes it all a bit special. A eulogy to the Chip Butty, an excellent Toad, which includes wrapping Pancetta around the herby Pork Sausages, and cooking them all in a Mustard tweaked batter, and another on how to make “a really good, and very easy white loaf”. He uses quantities like “the handful, the pinch and the slurp”, and tries to make you “feel” what you are doing in the cooking, rather than slavishly following an “accurate to a gram” listing, which takes no account of the fact that tomatoes, say, change size, texture and taste as the seasons move on.

I’ve just made his bread recipe, and taken it down to tempt my daughter, son-in-law and my grandchildren, one of whom “does not like crusts”. Well, the whole, still warm, crisply crusted loaf seems to have simply disappeared, devoured with probably far too much butter – and Crusts now seem to be the order of the day!

ACTUALLY, MINE LOOKED LIKE THAT, BUT IT HAD BEEN CONSUMED BEFORE I'D GOT THE CAMERA OUT, SO I PINCHED THIS PICTURE FROM ONE OF HIS BOOKS!


Well, the best laid plans etc …… That’s buggered tomorrow’s breakfast for me, but there you go. But, if that’s not what home cooking is about, I’m missing the point. Double quantities next time.

Try his home made pizza, with a layer of Garlic butter, pound coin-thick slices of al-dente cooked Cold Charlotte potatoes, a good layer of fresh thyme leaves, half a dozen slices of Italian Pancetta Ham, topped of with a few handfuls of Taleggio Cheese, and baked in a hot oven for about 10 minutes. I’ve never tasted a better pizza. Simple, distinctive, and great to eat.

What more can you want from a cookery book?

Pick any of the books he has written – “Appetite”, “Real Food”, “The 30 Minute Cook”, and “The Kitchen Diaries” – and you will not be disappointed.

If I had to live with one person’s cook books for the rest of my life, without doubt it would be Nigel Slater’s.

* Woolton Pie – See:

http://www.homesweethomefront.co.uk/web_pages/hshf_recipe_woolton_pie_pg.htm

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SHREWSBURY - STREET NAMES THAT TELL A STORY

Why do we only seem to explore our local surroundings when visitors come to stay, and the need to do the tourist thing around the area cannot be put off. So it was a few days ago, when out grandchildren came to stay, and we felt that a bit of sight-seeing would be in order.

Without trying to sound like the local Tourist Board, Shrewsbury is a particularly attractive town – not in the self conscious style of places like Chester and Stratford (-upon-Avon, not E15), but in a quiet, rather unassuming but very satisfying and comfortable way.
JUST ONE OF THE MANY INTRIGUING BUILDINGS IN THE TOWN CENTRE
It has a real business life of its own, and benefits from being a good distance from any other similar sized town. In fact, you could say much the same of the rest of the string of towns which sit along the Welsh Marches – Whitchurch, Church Stretton, Ludlow, Leominster, Hereford, Gloucester, Monmouth, Hay-on Wye, and more. This separation gives them all a real purpose, and has allowed them to retain a distinctiveness and an individuality, which has not been swamped by the onwards march of standardisation which is such a curse in towns in Britain today.

Wandering round Shrewsbury on foot, for that is the only real way of appreciating it, you are struck by the 600 or so listed buildings, many of them black and white, timber framed constructions, as well as the narrow streets and alleyways, which criss-cross the town centre.

As just a taster to the town, the pictures below show not the buildings, but a selection of road names around the centre of the town. As a pointer and a shorthand guide to what has gone before, they are telling signs. Just imagine why these names are what they are, and imagine anyone today even thinking of naming a street anything like these.








Don’t even ask where the “Grope Lane” comes from. If you really want to know, just Google “shrewsbury street names”, and follow the money. If your mind is starting to think “It couldn’t possibly be anything as rude as that ….”, then you’re probably on the right trail! Sexual openness and permissiveness did not start with Christine Keeler, the Beatles, the Pill, Woodstock and the other trappings of the 60’s – it was there, in spades, many centuries ago.

The imprint of history is here, and long may it stay.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

IF THE MRSA DOESN'T GET YOU, THE PHONES WILL

I don’t know if you’ve been in Hospital recently, but, if you haven’t, believe me, it’s a stressful experience. Ignoring the fact that there’s a man with a very sharp knife waiting for you, and that to minimise your litigious potential to them, they insist on telling you that your chances of survival are of the same order as playing Russian Roulette with a 12 chambered revolver, and the fact that, as soon as you manage to get to sleep, they throw the lights on, Guantanamo Bay style, to wake you up, and feed you food that you’d think twice about giving to a pet you didn’t like much, there’s always the telephones.

When you settle into your bed, you are faced with a Startrek style screen, which you are told is your lifeline with the outside world. It has a personal TV screen, a phone, some games and probably a lot more which, because you're ill, you can’t be bothered to find out about. They inform you that you cannot use your mobile phone “because it interferes with the equipment on the ward” so you are condemned to use the phone on this screen, since they have eliminated the Ward's Public Pay Phone, for reasons you can probably work out for yourself.

A Company called Patientline runs these things, and it seems they have a vice-like grip throughout the NHS. They have apparently installed 75,000 of these in over 150 hospitals, and run the system like a military operation. In another of the hugely successful, good old New Labour/NHS computer projects we have come to love and admire, some seven years ago they won a contract to put these screens into Hospitals to integrate doctor’s access to computerised patient’s records, allow electronic meal ordering, electronic real-time drug prescription and ordering of patient X-rays, as well as providing patients with entertainment and telephone services.

You can probably guess the next bit – the medical IT side of the process is still not working, so there is little or no payment going from the NHS to Patientline to recoup their £160million investment, so the only way the company can recover its outlay and make money, is to soak the patient. And they are about to be pushed even further under water.

The costs for this service are about to be raised by 160% according to the Newspaper. The Government, bless their cotton socks, maintain that a lifeline from a patient’s family and friends outside “is a luxury, and should not be funded by the taxpayer.” So, guess who pays the costs?

If you ring in on a landline to find out if a patient is still with us, you will be charged 49p per minute in peak time to talk to them. A 3 minute call from a Mobile phone to one of these Patientline machines will cost the caller £2.37p, and if you are stupid enough to ring out from your Hospital bed to a UK landline using one of these machines, you will be charged 78p for a 3 minute call.

The real solution here seems simple. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) conducted tests on mobile phones a couple of years ago, and concluded that “Only 4% of (hospital) devices suffered interference from mobile phones at a distance of one metre, with less than 0.1% showing serious effects.” Why not get the manufacturers of the 0.1% of equipment with a problem, to modify it and screen it in such a way as to reduce the 0.1% to zero. Then, we could all use our mobile phones to our heart’s content, making a huge improvement to the patient’s well-being – or am I being silly in still thinking that that the patient is No.1 on a Hospital’s agenda? Or alternatively, tell us which particular makes of phone the Doctors and Consultants use as they go on their rounds, and we will all pick one of those when we next go to Carphone Warehouse for an upgrade.

A combination of these two fixes will sort the problem out just like that. The Government can then do a deal with Patientline to pay them the revenues they expected to get, and, had the Government managed to deliver the IT Project on time, would now be receiving (Pigs/Wings/Fly). The elegant result here would be that the people causing the problem would then face the pain of paying for their failure.

Except of course, it’s our money they’d be using.
Bugger.
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DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR - DPM STYLE

Now, here’s a headline to scare you witless “Prescott sees himself as an ambassador to the world”. It was in the Times yesterday, and I have the horrible feeling it was serious. The ex Ship’s Steward has obviously got himself hooked on the “good life” style of living that goes with the Office of Deputy Prime Minister, and is trying to carve himself out a continuing niche when Blair is off on his lecture tours, and he is out of a job. Clearly the prospect of the glittering nightlife of Kingston-upon-Hull has lost its magnetism for him.

He, apparently, wants to “continue his role as an international ambassador for Britain”. He seems to have taken it upon himself, since the revelations about his tawdry affair with his secretary, to rack up his Air Miles and visit as many countries as he can. According to his Private Office, he has visited 26 countries since the beginning of 2005, one of which is China. He is reported to be keen to continue his work with the China Task Force, of which he has been Chairman for the last three years. The Times mischievously reports that this post is in the gift of the Prime Minister, and their suggestion is that Gordon Brown may well seize upon this to “welcome the opportunity to keep him out of the country.” Smart move, Gordo baby.

He is even threatening to avoid a by-election in his home constituency, and wants to keep his place to the end of this Parliament. The only exception, we are told, is if he was to be offered a prominent international position, which would prevent him from sitting in Parliament, such as (wait for it), President of the World Bank.

I simply can’t think of anything to say at this point, so I’m going to hide.

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BEEP BEEP - THE MAN'S A GENIUS

STOP PRESS - See additional post just added on Jim Hall - 29th December 2007
The word “genius” is much overused today. Even in something like Motor Racing, which attracts a lot of very clever people, there are not that many. Ask yourself to create a list of Racing Car Designers who are “geniuses”, and once you’ve written the name of Colin Chapman down, most people start to think for quite a while before they write another name.

If you’re old and wizened, you might also put down Ettore Bugatti, Gordon Murray, Adrian Newey and Enzo Ferrari – although I actually think you’d be wrong with Ferrari. And if you think current F1 is still Motor Racing, I’m damned if I’d know whose name you would think of today.

Most people would not have the name of James Ellis Hall on their list. If you have, you’ll know immediately what this piece is going to be about. If not, read on.

Next clue - if the name Chaparral strikes a chord, you’ll realise now who I’m talking about. If you’re still no wiser, and racing cars interest you, keep reading because, as a Designer of racing Cars, the man is a Genius.



JIM HALL IN 1966 - CHAPARRAL'S CREATOR

JIM HALL AT GOODWOOD IN 2004 - PICTURE TAKEN BY YOURS TRULY!

Hall is a larger than life Texan, who started life, with a little more money than the average man, looking to get involved in the family Oil business, when his parent were killed in an air crash. He studied Mechanical Engineering, and, in the late 50s was bitten very hard by the Motor Racing bug. Rather than acting like the spoiled child, he turned out to be very, very good at it, and moved through a series of Maseratis, Ferraris, and home converted Lister-Jaguars, into which he shoe-horned a large American V8.

He teamed up with a fellow competitor named Hap Sharp, and between them, and a few others, they created a new racetrack in the middle of Oil rich Texas, which they called Rattlesnake Raceway, named after some of the local residents. They both gradually became more and more serious about racing, progressively buying a wide range of modern European racing cars from Lotus and Cooper, and always seeming to come off second best in the deals. Having got increasingly fed up with never quite getting what they had ordered, they decided to build an all American Sports racing car which they would call the Chaparral, in a small factory next to the Raceway.

Hall was an extremely good driver, easily good enough to compete in the Formula 1 World Championship. He drove for the BRP team in 1963, although he soon realised that trying both to build a racing car in Texas, and to drive a Lotus 24 in Formula 1 events around the world was not going to work. So he went back home to concentrate on building his cars.

Over the next seven years, he, and a very small team of helpers, built a series of racing cars, the like of which had never been seen before, or since. In some ways, Colin Chapman was the only man who, single-handedly, did anything like the same. One of Chapman’s greatest skills was to develop some innovation which literally transformed, for all time, racing car design. He didn’t do this just once, he did it many times. For students of Lotus history, the numbers 18, 25, 49, 56, 78, 79 and 88 represent a Holy sequence of Formula 1 car designs. When each of these Lotus models wwere introduced to the despairing horde of fellow designers, they simply stood around and realised that their own lovingly and newly designed cars had, once again, just been consigned to the scrap heap. Hall had the same effect with his creations.

Hall’s credits, however, are not quite as numerous, but it happened at least half a dozen times in his career. but it's difficult to think of another individual whom you could mention in the same breath as Chapman. Indeed, I have a sneaking feeling that Chapman always took a great interest in what Chaparral were doing, and on a number of occasions, the “new” Lotus that Chapman launched onto the unsuspecting European racing fraternity, reflected a piece of Jim Hall genius which had been launched some time before.

Over the period 1963-1970, Hall and his small team built a series of eight designs of large engined Sports racing cars, which, on their day, fought and beat McLaren, Ford, Ferrari and Porsche. The sad thing about Chaparral was that, on paper, the bald race results do not them justice. Perhaps it was the simple lack of resources, or the team trying to do too much – it raced in Europe and America simultaneously, diluting the team’s focus. Perhaps it was the overall leading edge uniqueness of what they came up with that resulted in a niggling stream of reliability issues, which kept them off the podium. So often, they grabbed Pole position, Fastest lap and led races, only for some maddening little fault to bring their progress to a stop. But in Motor racing, the rule is simple “To finish First, First you must finish.” Simple, hackneyed, but true.

This does not, in any way, diminish what Hall came up with, much of which is still affecting Racing Car Design today. Allow me a second to put my anorak on, and here’s a short list –

1 - Simple,but the Spoked Alloy Wheel was one of Hall’s innovations – Still in Use


2 - The Airdam as a regulator of airflow at the front of the car – Still in use


3 - The High level, Moveable Wing, (1967) which transformed the aero-dynamics of racing cars. Yes, it had been used, almost experimentally before, but Hall realised its potential, and developed it intelligently and hugely, way before other less knowledgeable engineers got it wrong, and the device was banned. Chapman, or at least his engineers were in this latter band of men, trying it, and getting it horribly wrong, a year later. This set Racing Car designers off on the aerodynamic trail, which is still vital today. Just ask Jenson Button today for his opinion when you haven’t got it right!


4 - He first designed the whole car to be an aerodynamic device. His 2H model, which came out in 1969, and looks like something out of “Bladerunner” was an (unsuccessful) attempt to treat the whole car as an inverted wing, which led to the ideas of the Lotus 78 and 79 1976-78.


5 - In 1962, he introduced the fibreglass monocoque chassis, when sheet steel and aluminium were the order of the day. Carbon Fibre was still on the secret list in those days, but you just know what Hall would have used to construct his cars, had it been available. He was that sort of man. Look at almost all racing cars today – it’s still there. Formula 1 got around to it in the early 1980s, some 18 years later.


6 - He used the Semi-Automatic transmission, to my knowledge, for the first time, and several drivers spoke of how much more time they had “driving” rather the “changing gear”. Try looking for a real gear lever today.


7 - Rear-set radiators (1967). The weight distribution was transformed, the weight went down, the aerodynamics improved, the driver didn’t fry. So simple, but Hall got there first. The Lotus 72, to my knowledge, first tried this “revolutionary” idea in Formula 1 in 1970.


8 - With his last car, in 1970, the 2J, he demonstrated Ground Effect and made it work brilliantly, for the first time. As well as the 680 Horsepower main engine, the car used an additional small Snowmobile engine, and a plastic fence to surround the base of the car. This sucked the car down onto the road, allowing enormously increased cornering speeds. It developed so much downforce, it could have held itself onto a ceiling if anyone had been daft enough to put it up there with the engine running! It was a simply devastating racing machine, with the ability to lap between 2 and 3 seconds faster (on a 60 second lap!) than anything else in the field, including the previously all conquering McLarens. To the then boss of McLaren’s eternal shame, he was the man who led the campaign which successfully had it banned. Now look at Gordon Murray’s 1978 Brabham BT46B (also banned by the authorities because it was way too good) in a new light?

Do you see the thread here, and why I think Jim Hall is such an important man in the rarified field of Racing Car people. So many times, he did it first. For someone whose name is very much NOT known in the UK, he has made a huge, huge mark on the long term history of the racing car.

I watched, with utter glee, in the late 60s, the "David and Goliath" - like progress of the Chaparrals, and when I saw that he was to visit the Goodwood Festival in 2004, with some of his lovingly restored cars, I took myself off to pay homage.

It’s not often that I get the chance to shake the hand of a Hero and a Genius.

Photographs - Copyright Jim Hall, Bob Tronolone, Dave Friedman, Pete Lyons


A TYPICAL START FOR THE 60s - AND YOU THINK RACING TODAY IS EXCITING!

HALL'S CHAPARRAL IS CAR 66

VARIOUS VERSIONS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE 2D FROM 1966

CHAPARRAL 2E - DEVELOPED FOR THE CAN-AM SERIES IN 1966

AERODYNAMIC WINGS HIT MAINSTREAM RACING FOR THE FIRST TIME

CHAPARRAL 2F - RACING AT BRANDS HATCH - WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MACHINE!



CHAPARRAL 2F - REBUILT BY HALL'S TEAM



CHAPARRAL 2H - LEAST SUCCESSFUL OF ALL THE CARS, BUT BRISTLING WITH INNOVATION - FIRST CAR BUILT IN THE FORM OF AN INVERTED WING



AFTER HALL'S ACCIDENT WHICH NEARLY PROVED FATAL, HE HIRED WORLD CHAMPION JOHN SURTEES TO DEVELOP AND DRIVE THE 2H - TO SAY THEY DID NOT HIT IT OFF WOULD BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT!


CHAPARRAL 2J - 1970

AS UGLY A CAR AS EVER RACED, BUT FOR SPEED IT WAS IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN. IT WAS SO GOOD, THE ONLY WAY THEY COULD BEAT IT WAS TO BAN IT.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

WELL ANYWAY, IT AMUSED ME - No.7

What is it about Pop Groups that, when they reach the position of Global super-stardom, they suddenly turn themselves, Francis of Assisi-like, from Angry Young Men, doing the most unmentionable things to as many people as possible in the shortest possible time, to a cross between Mother Teresa and the Angel Gabriel.

We hear last week of the accession to an honorary knighthood of U2’s Bono, for “services to humanity”.

To put this into proper perspective, there is a lovely letter in “The Sunday Times” today from a gentleman whose name in the paper, believe it, or not is recorded as Sandy Pratt from Bromley, Kent. It reads –

Sir, The award of an honorary knighthood to Bono for services to humanity reminds me of an incident when his band U2 were giving a concert in Glasgow. He asked the audience for complete silence and started clapping his hands every few seconds before saying “Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies”. A Scots voice boomed out: “Well, stop doing it then.”

Excellent.