January 15th, 2012


My life in 2011- part five (October)


Gareth Cutter premiered his new performance piece about loneliness “Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto”, a mishmash of different elements, but all with his fresh-faced wit. It was part of “Emergency Accommodation”, a two day performance fest in Manchester with lots of interesting stuff ranging from comedy, interactive theatre and some self-mutilation that almost made me faint (literally- most embarrassing). 

Leeds had its own artsy event the following Friday in the shape of Light Night, the annual “Nuit Blanche”-inspired burst of free happenings in the city centre. My friends' knitting group knitted some instruments including a working synthesizer.

I went to the Leeds library, a little known members-only independent lending library that has been there forever in the centre, which had a performance piece thing going on that featured Matthew Bellwood reading some of his 365 Leeds Stories.

Then me and Zoe went up a tall office building not to hear whatever nonsense was going on up there but to enjoy the view of the city.

After an appalling so-called Mexican fast food meal with Karren and Chris we all went to the town hall where we missed the Nosferatu screening, and instead went to the dungeons again (bit disappointing this year, and anyway we didn't realise that's what we were queueing for). Finally we found “Dormitorium” an exhibition of miniature film sets by the Quay Brothers. Then it all seemed to come to an end.


I finally went back to Berlin for a week. Some friends of mine (or anyone who has heard my song on the subject) may know that my 2003 trip to Berlin was one of the most thrilling and inspiring times in my life, and the city has assumed talismanic significance for me. And yet I'd somehow never got around to the return visit, all the more shameful as I had my good friend Britta to visit there (who by mischance wasn't in town the previous time I went). So, some time in the summer, while planning the Lyon trip, I thought I'd seize the initiative and book a week in Berlin too. A friend of my brother's who I got to know one Lower Woodstock kindly offered to put me up (in spite of his new baby), and I managed to arrange rendezvous with several of the people I now know living in Berlin (and some not).

However, though I saw lots of people, I was much more left to my own devices on this trip than I was in Lyon, much more on my own for long periods of every day. With Lyon so fresh in my memory, it made me realise how much nicer it is to travel and explore with friends (provided you're somewhat in sync with them). Also. tiredness and lots of rain, added to my loneliness, made this a holiday tinged with melancholy, a far cry form the hedonism, excitement and fun of the previous group trip of 2003.

Left to my own devices I have a tendency to go to too many museums and art galleries- which are great, but one can have too much of a good thing. If, say, Alice had been there I would have done more varied, less staid, things.

My first day, I was so melancholy and tired I just didn't have the energy for a museum, so after a walk starting at the Brandenburg Gate and walking East along Unter den linden, I went up the revolving restaurant up the telecom tower, one of my fondest memories of last time. There was hardly any queue as the mist made the view very obscure, and my first thought was that I had wasted 11 euros. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I went to the restaurant on my own and nursed a pot of coffee for an hour, and tried to draw what I saw. Soon I was restored to cheeriness with the soothing slow revolution of the restaurant, the blessed caffeine, the city emerging through the mist, the pleasure of drawing, and the knowledge that a day that seemed headed for utter disappointment had turned out well after all. I felt the Berlin magic return.

Museums seen:
*Gemaldegalerie: One guide book describes this (the Berlin equivalent of London's National Gallery) as “Berlin's best-kept secret”. I read that and I sarcastically thought, “yeah right”. I had to go to it, even though I'd been the previous time. I was surprised to find it was indeed very quiet, as if the tourists were mostly giving it a miss. I can only conjecture this is because it's not on Museum Island. I had a great time with these Western Art masterpieces, my favourite of which, naturally, being Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs which I bought a big poster of last time. And despite seeing it on my wall every day since then I still had to have a good long gawp at the original. The only really top-rate Bruegel I've ever seen outside of Vienna I think.

Also has been used as a record sleeve but wholly unworthy popsters Fleet Foxes.

*The Altenationalgalerie, which is nineteenth century art, mostly realist and impressionist. It was almost deserted when I went. There was a temporary exhibition of some bankers' private collection which went on for ever and ever and wasn't much good but the permanent collection had fine work by Friedrich, Feuerbach, Courbet, Corot, Bocklin, and Overbeck. I've always loved German Romantic Art, especially its doyen Caspar David Friedrich, but rarely seen any except in reproduction.

Overbeck. Ever wondered who the "Nazarenes" were who I mention in my song "Same Old Scenes"? German Catholic painters wanting to revive the art, lifestyle and piety of the distant past. I read about them in "Romanticism" by Hugh Honor but this was the first time I ever saw any of their works for real. This is one that I had previously seen reproduced in black and White in Honor's book, and I always liked it. Great to have finally seen the original.

*The Berlin Gallery of Modern Art, all-Berlin modern art, with lots of George Grosz and Dada.

*The Jewish Museum- some of it depressing as you can imagine and too much writing to read but lots of interesting exhibits anyway.

*The last day I went to the Brucke museum, which was a right slog to get to (it's out in the suburbs) and it was totally not worth the effort. It is about the size of Church Stretton public library, it only has temporary exhibitions, and the exhibition at the time was watercolours by two Brucke artists not one of which was of any interest. I'm a fan of Die Brucke, but I love them for their raw bold oil colours, and their watercolours seem to expose their limitations. To make matters worse I walked the wrong way for a bit in my attempt to get back to the S-bahn station and civilisation.

*A sure-fire winner: the Kathe Kollwitz museum. She's one of my favourite artists and to see so many of her works in a variety of media, while getting more background, was great.

*The Pergamonmuseum There are about four major museums of mostly antiquities in Berlin, I didn't think I could concentrate on more than one on this trip. It had much magnificence and wonder, especially the Ishtar Gate and the Islamic rugs.

*Sadly not seen: the Neue Nationalgalerie, due to it being closed for refurbishment (same as it was on my last trip IIRC!) and The Bode Museum (blockbusting Renaissance exhibition causing ridiculous and insupportable queues)

I met up with Britta (not seen for nine years; looks just the same) and she took me around parts of North Berlin, including the squat-like art studio/gallery Tacheles. I met her boyfriend and we went to a free bar where a fine band from Seattle called the Toy Boats played music for pets' funerals to very scanty audience. They just played toy and small instruments, mostly instrumental numbers, often based on traditional folk songs from around the world. 

On Tuesday I went to see my Canadian friend Ambika (not seen for eleven years; looks just the same) and met her Irish husband and two kids. We went to alternative gay pub Silver Future to see Chris Pureka and Clouds For Lunch on a friend's recommendation, but it was a bit dull. Afterwards we went to that bar everyone seems to go to right now where there's table tennis. Ambika introduced me to people and we went back to hers where I crashed for the night in the spare room.

The next morning Ambika gave me directions to a crazy second hand store where junk is just piled up everywhere so you can barely move. (Didn't find much I wanted though.) Her husband Richie gave me his band Michael Knight's CDs (I say band, it's basically him, I believe) and was later amazed how good they were. The kids were funny too.

“Say goodbye, you won't see Ian again”

“Why not?”

“Because he doesn't live here, he lives in England”

“What's he doing here then?”

I went walking around East Berlin quite aimlessly for a while, saw some interesting architecture.

Wednesday I stayed in with my host Felix (his turn to look after the baby while his girlfriend went out) and we cooked and listened to the Seven Inches.

Full album:

Thursday night I went out with another friend, Mar who recently moved to Berlin, after a meal we went to a punk show at Schokoladen, it was great fun though the bands weren't all that. Britta made a special effort to come at the end to say goodbye as I left early on Friday morning. A fine ending to my trip.

It was fortunate that I had booked a plane that got back on Friday as it so happened that we got offered a show supporting Blyth Power that very Friday night. It was an event on a temporary Events Licence at Wharf Chambers, which is the old Common Place building now risen like a phoenix from the flames in search of a new permanent licence.

Blyth Power have been one of my favourite bands since 1997, and I wrote a ten-page appreciation of/interview with them in Dishes 3, but we had never before played on the same bill as them. Emil and I were thrilled, you can bet. It didn't disappoint.

This was followed quickly by two other Seven Inches shows, first with Jelas and D'Astro, and then on 3rd November supporting the great Jeffrey Lewis. But that's a tale for the next entry.