Category: Italy

Backpacker blues

Byron Boy by Luca Van Der Heide (Scatole Parlanti, 2020)

The young unnamed backpacker who narrates this novella is searching for an escape from routine and predictability. This quest takes him from Italy to New South Wales in Australia – all the way to Byron Bay to be precise.

The slim volume recounts three months of keeping body and soul together by doing back-breaking work as a blueberry picker. In the process he forges friendships that are destined to be fleeting since the chosen life of the traveller means that hellos are temporary and goodbyes are final. The typical questions this transient community ask one another are: What brings you here? Where have you been? Where are you heading?

What connects these fellow journey men and women is a kind of updated hippy lifestyle dream. Freedom is the constantly moving target. They may have different notions of what true liberty means but they share a common agreement that hell constitutes a comfortably numb life of ease. The author is driven by a fear of not finding independence; of feeling trapped in a vicious cycle of conventional life choices. Continue reading

Music highs of 2019

weird-banjo-pic-copyFor me 2019 was not a particularly memorable year for music. I found pleasure in some old favorites but made no significant new discoveries.
Mostly, female artists struck the strongest chords with me. Billie Eilish’s debut ‘When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’ and Lana Del Ray’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ were rightly rated highly in many ‘best of’ lists.
I wrote around 10 reviews a month for Whisperin’ & Hollerin’ , about half of my output from the previous year. Continue reading


ALDOUS HARDING – Live at the Locomotiv Club, Bologna 15th November 2019

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Aldous Harding – an icy stare and a precocious talent.

By common consensus Aldous Harding is seriously weird; a woman who boldly wears her eccentricity on her sleeve. Watch any of the New Zealander’s captivating videos for evidence of this and her only concert date in Italy this year provided further proof.

She has a distinctive way of gurning and grinning that looks faintly ridiculous but demands attention and manages to communicate by body language alone.

She adopts a theatrical air of aloofness with every move appearing to be considered and/or choreographed even when simply tuning her guitar or adjusting the microphone stand.

Dressed from head to toe in plain black, she gives a sense of being a woman wound so tightly as to be constantly on the brink of throwing a wild tantrum. No one in the audience dares break the silence between songs for fear of being on the receiving end of one of her icy stares.

Her voice ranges from that of a petulant schoolgirl to a hardened femme fatale; a cross between early Joanna Newsom and late Nico. She’s backed by a four piece band but remains the centre of attention throughout.

The theatrical mask never slips; not stepping out of character even when receiving a bouquet of roses from a smitten fan. The mannered stage persona exudes supreme self assurance but the play acting also conveniently distracts from any hints of shyness or nervousness.

Most of the songs in her relatively short set come from the latest album, ‘Designer’, although she ends with ‘Blend’ from her second album, ‘Party’ and for the encore performs a similarly upbeat new song, ‘Old Peel’ . Both these tunes suggest that her music is moving beyond traditional folk towards a playful disco-pop sound.

Whatever direction she takes she has already established herself as a unique talent and I can only imagine her going from strength to strength.

bollocksThis is not a political blog but I can’t let the year pass without posting at least one piece about Brexit.

This is a topic that has been discussed and debated to death but still nobody seems clear what the actual consequences will be.

My perspective is as an ex-pat living in Italy who, like many others living abroad, found the result of the vote for the UK to exit the EU both shocking and bewildering.

All of my friends in England voted to remain but one from Northern Ireland close the leave path. This was, for me, an unfathomable decision because she had always struck me as rational woman whose radical left-wing views seemed entirely at odds with self-righteous rightists in the leave camp. What follows is adapted from a reply to a letter she wrote explaining her choice.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I didn’t think I was being so blunt about your decision to vote remain in the referendum. Perhaps my shock/surprise came over stronger than I intended but I didn’t set out to offend and I apologize if this is the way it came over. I certainly didn’t want to suggest you were blindly following leaders. I’ve known you long enough to know, and admire, your free-spirited independence.

I think fear of mass immigration was made into a big issue (playing upon inherent racism) but I recognize that this was not the only factor and was clearly was not what swung the vote in your case.

I agree with you that frustration and powerlessness led to people flexing the limited political muscle they had. This is the nature of most referendums and you now see it happening in general elections too.

People are no longer dependent solely on state propaganda or the mainstream media for information. The distrust towards the so-called experts and out of touch politicians is now at a feverish level and anyone with an internet connection now has a voice. However, even in this climate, lies written on buses and cynical poster campaigns still contribute to influencing public opinion. Continue reading

The casual appeal of Damien Jurado

DAMIEN JURADO Live at the Bronson Club, Ravenna, Italy 2nd November 2018


Josh Gordon (left) and Damien Jurado at The Bronson.

When it comes to clothes, Damien Jurado doesn’t make a great distinction between street and stage. In a well-worn sweatshirt, ripped jeans and old sneakers, he gives the impression that he’s wandered into the club only vaguely aware that there are paying guests to watch him perform.

And yet, far from being slobby or disrespectful, his casual attire is very much in keeping with the un-showy style of his music. His songs never go out of their way to grab the attention but, rather, they have a relaxing and slightly hypnotic quality.

They are relatively short so, rather than telling complete stories, they take on the quality of brief, introspective reflections. His finest songs like ‘Over Rainbows And Rainer’ and, my favorite, ‘A.M.Am’ manage to combine elements of melancholy and celebration.

The only cover he plays is ‘The Novelist’ by Richard Swift who sadly passed away in July of this year aged 41. Jurado makes a touching tribute to his late friend who he frequently collaborated with.

On stage in Ravenna, before a small, attentive seated audience, he is accompanied by gifted guitarist, Josh Gordon. Remarkably for such quiet, understated music, his songs sound even more intimate in a live setting.

Between each song he spends a minute or two patiently re-tuning his acoustic guitar (“It’s like tuning a harp”). He doesn’t speak much but he tells a lengthy anecdote by way of introduction to ‘Percy Faith’. which he once heard playing over the P.A. while boarding a plane from Seattle to LA. He was the last to take his seat conscious that the other passengers, annoyed by his lateness, were almost certainly oblivious to the fact he was composer of the music they were listening to. Not only that, but the plane’s hostess was unimpressed when he told her.

This story illustrates that Jurado never really expects anyone to be starstruck or even mildly dazzled by his modest fame. He simply writes great tunes which he sings in a soft, soothing voice that subtly draws you into his world.

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