Bullshit and gardening

One day soon I’ll blog about our whole experience re house buying here in France.

However we still haven’t signed for the house so, until hopefully after sometime in the week beginning 10th October, I’m going to omit the details – I don’t want to offend anyone involved just quite yet. What started out as a simple transaction with no mortgage and no chain has, through the action and inaction of certain people, dragged on and on amidst a load of bullshit that needn’t have figured in the process at all.

But, as I said, more on that later…

The whole deal isn’t in doubt – there are just all these totally unnecessary bullshit delays – but we’ve been working away on the garden meantime.

The new house stands on a plot of about half an acre, with a further similar area (with small barn) just across the track into the hamlet.

The plot with the house is now about three-quarters cleared and what was once a forest of vicious brambles is now emerging as a grassy area with an orchard at the bottom. Amongst a few young oaks there are various apple trees, a plum tree, a pear tree, a hazel tree and a walnut tree – all in dire need of pruning as the garden hadn’t been touched for 7 years before we started on it.

One of the fun things to do with the garden has been the very expensive but very necessary purchase of a Stihl brushcutter – sort of like a strimmer but petrol-driven and with optional cutting blades. It’s so heavy that you have to wear a harness to support it and wearing a helmet (with ear defenders and visor), heavy gloves and steel toe-capped safety shoes is a must. This motherfucker is major garden machinery and makes your Black & Decker strimmer look like a fucking Fisher Price toy.

We’ve been getting a real kick out of clearing the garden and seeing features emerge from what was virtually jungle. The house stands in one corner of an essentially rectangular plot with a sort of patio along the back of it. The main garden itself stretches away from the side door over a flat grassy area which has a crescent-shaped pond at the back of it which then goes up to a well and a terraced area of orchard and oak trees.

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The other half acre plot with the barn on is a different kettle of fish, however…

As far as we can see, as well as the barn there’s a collapsed stone, timber and slate structure which will be plundered for useful building materials (there’s a market here in old oak beams) and also a pond. There are also various fruit trees, including plum, cherry and apple, as well as sloe bushes. The whole area is totally overgrown with brambles of gigantic proportions. The plot runs right alongside our neighbours’ potager so we’re thinking that this may be a good place to site ours eventually.

Of course, we now have huge piles of rubbish, so I predict a bonfire very soon…

I’m not normally a keen gardener – I’ve always left that to Mrs Shark who is – but I’m enjoying this garden clearing lark immensely. I just wish we could get on with the house as well, but it’ll come eventually.

Patience, SteveShark…patience…

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Jimi – the last post

Yes, I know that I’ve written a lot about Hendrix of late, but 2010 is the 40th anniversary of his death after all and thus a good time for myself as well as the film makers to remember one of the all time greats. No more – at least for a while – I promise.

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BBC4’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix threw up an extremely interesting documentary last night.

The 90 minute ‘Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Legend’ was far more typical of your average ‘rock doc’ than ‘Voodoo Child’ which I reviewed here a couple of days ago.

There was lots of interview footage featuring various celebs and brief clips of Jimi on and off stage – on the face of it, pretty uninspiring – but the approach that the film maker took was what made this absolutely essential viewing.

The key to understanding the film lies in the train of events that followed Jimi’s death.

As I understand it, after he died, his estate did not go directly to his family but spent some years under dispute. His financial affairs whilst alive were somewhat murky, which didn’t help matters, and it wasn’t until quite a few years later that the Hendrix family gained control of the various interests which were of considerable worth.

At first Jimi’s father Al was the chief beneficiary, but his daughter Janie (from a subsequent relationship after Jimi’s mother died) took over the estate when he died. However, Jimi had a younger brother Leon who was ‘paid off’ if I recall correctly. Leon’s past was somewhat colourful by all accounts, with booze and gambling featuring very heavily,

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

When Al Hendrix died of congestive heart failure in 2002, his will stipulated that Experience Hendrix, LLC was to exist as a trust designed to distribute profits to a list of Hendrix family beneficiaries. Upon his death, it was revealed that Al had signed a revision to his will which removed Hendrix’s brother Leon Hendrix as a beneficiary. A 2004 probate lawsuit merged Leon’s challenge to the will with charges from other Hendrix family beneficiaries that Janie Hendrix, Al’s adopted daughter, was improperly handling the company finances. The suit argued that Janie and a cousin of Jimi Hendrix (Robert Hendrix) paid themselves exorbitant salaries and covered their own mortgages and personal expenses from the company’s coffers while the beneficiaries went without payment and the Hendrix gravesite in Renton went uncompleted.

Janie and Robert’s defense was that the company was not profitable yet, and that their salary and benefits were justified given the work that they put into running the company. Leon charged that Janie bilked Al Hendrix, then old and frail, into signing the revised will, and sought to have the previous will reinstated. The defense argued that Al willingly removed Leon from his will because of Leon’s problems with alcohol and gambling. In early 2005, presiding judge Jeffrey Ramsdell handed down a ruling that left the final will intact, but replaced Janie and Robert’s role at the financial helm of Experience Hendrix with an independent trustee.

Although it’s probably inevitable that such disputes will follow the death of someone like Hendrix when the posthumous earnings potential is so high, nonetheless it casts a long and unpleasant shadow over the deceased’s artistic legacy and does nothing to promote respect for the dead person, but Hendrix’s family seems to have done rather less than most to diminish these negative feelings.

‘Jimi Hendrix: Guitar Legend’ was very firmly in the pro-Leon camp with zero involvement by Janie et al at ‘Experience Hendrix’. From the accounts given in the film by both Leon and Jimi and Leon’s aunt, Jimi’s father Al Hendrix was a poor father and quite content to send Jimi and Leon away to stay with relatives in Canada, see Leon taken into care and to let the two boys to be fed by neighbours.

As well as Jimi’s brother and aunt, other people interviewed who spoke very candidly were Lemmy of Motorhead (once a roadie for Jimi) and Eric Burdon, a long term friend. Neither had a good word to say about the late Monika Danneman, who was with Hendrix when he died, and Burdon still seems to believe that Jimi committed suicide. Lemmy, on the other hand, attributed Jimi’s death to a poor response from the emergency services and stated that Jimi was still alive when he went into the ambulance, although the official line was that he’d been dead for some time when found. Danneman’s part in all this remains a mystery, with her giving several differing accounts of the events of that day in various interviews.

Of course, with zero involvement by Experience Hendrix, the film was short on decent film clips, but the interviews featuring lots of people who actually knew Hendrix made up for this. Eric Clapton, Zoot Money, Lemmy, Kathy Etchingham, Alan Douglas, Ben Palmer and many others spoke authoritatively and lent the film a certain gravitas that the Experience Hendrix film lacked.

Linking all this was Slash of all people who – of course – was not one of Jimi’s contemporaries. However, he spoke cogently about Jimi and firmly cited him as highly influential and still extremely relevant today.

If you missed either film then it’s probably available on iPlayer, but you really do need to see both if you’re any sort of guitar/rock/Hendrix fan.

‘Voodoo Child’ was a ‘coffee table’ film, heavy on the glossy visuals but short on source material, whilst ‘Guitar Legend’ went to the people who knew Jimi so that it gave a more intimate portrait of the man both on and off stage.

If you can only stand to watch just one of the two, then go for the ‘unofficial’ ‘Guitar Legend’ which digs rather deeper than ‘Voodoo Child’.

Hornets and a Wasp

I’ve posted quite a lot about the number of strange (to us) creatures we’ve seen since we’ve been living in the Mayenne and it’s been a fantastic experience  observing the French flora and fauna but – as with most pleasures – there’s a downside…

According to one of our future neighbours, the west of France has a major wasp problem.

Although I can’t find anything to confirm this on the interwebs, anecdotal evidence here seems to confirm it, with another of our future neighbours regularly complaining about the effect they have on his bees. He has several hives and his honey production is suffering.

But it’s not only the wasps, it’s the hornets – les frelons. This is a new word in my French vocabulary and one I wish I didn’t know.

Whilst wasps don’t really bother me – live and let live, plus they kill garden pests – hornets are a different matter.

They seem bolder and more inquisitive than wasps and they also pack a very painful sting and although I’m quite a peaceful soul as regards pests (flies, mosquitoes and rats are fair game but I can tolerate most other creatures around me) hornets are rapidly becoming a nuisance and are now dealt with accordingly.

However, whilst a simple whack with a fly swat can at least stun a wasp long enough for you to really lamp the bugger with a handy shoe or other weighty object, should the need arise, it takes more than a swipe with the swat to bring down a hornet.

Jesus Christ, they’re tough bastards!

We recently bought a spray which seemed to be the most lethal on the market and specifically for guepes (wasps) and frelons.

Wasps don’t stand a fucking chance! It kills them immediately – and I’ve even used it on a nest which is now wasp Chernobyl. Hornets are a different matter though.

I trapped a hornet in between a window and a shutter at about 11 o’clock last night, gave the gap a good spray very quickly and left the pesticide to do its stuff.

When I opened the shutter to get the dead hornet out, sure enough, there it was on the floor…but it wasn’t dead…

It lay there, visibly twitching – untill I twatted the bugger with one of my steel toecapped work boots. It was one dead motherfucker then.

Although I can’t find anything recent about a plague of hornets in France, I did find this from 2007:

The French honey industry is under threat from hordes of bee-massacring oriental hornets, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The forests of Aquitaine, in south-west France, now play host to swarms of the the Asian Hornet, Vespa velutina, which is believed to have arrived there “from the Far East in a consignment of Chinese pottery in late 2004”.

Entomogist Jean Haxaire, who first eyeballed the invaders, said: “Their spread across French territory has been like lightning.”

Haxaire said he’s now counted 85 “football-shaped” nests across the 40 miles which separate the towns of Marmande and Podensac “in the Lot et Garonne department where the hornets were first spotted”.

The Asian Hornet can cause some serious damage to a human, “inflicting a bite which has been compared to a hot nail entering the body”. But that’s not the principal threat they pose. They can decimate a nest of 30,000 bees “in a couple of hours” in search of larvae on which to feed their young. This, unsurprisingly, gives local beekeepers serious cause for alarm.

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Co-incidentally, another bunch of fucking pests, the EDP, seem to have lost a Wasp they’d rather have liked to have kept. Paul Sackey now plays for Toulon in France. This may well be old news, but it’s new to me. Sackey is one – perhaps the only one – of the party’s celebrity endorsers. I wonder how the party feels about him playing in France? Actually, scrap that – I really don’t give a flying fuck.

The Third Man

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about Mike Bloomfield in which I cited him as one of three guitarists to whom I believe we owe a great debt of gratitude for their pioneering role in the development of rock guitar playing.

One of the remaining two players mentioned was Eric Clapton.

My own personal ‘evolutionary theory’ of rock guitar goes as follows:

Clapton gave the genre the overall sound – distortion, linked with controlled bends and vibrato  – Bloomfield contributed the vision to look outside the restrictive blues-based pentatonics that can drag rock guitar into cliché and the third player gave us the legato techniques and chops which added a melodic feel and flow into the mix.  

My contention is that if these three players hadn’t been so innovative as individuals and so influential then rock guitar would sound very different today.

So…Clapton, Bloomfield and who?

Step forward the late, great Ollie Halsall.

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Now, if you weren’t aware of Bloomfield, then Ollie’s almost certainly going to be someone you may not have heard of.

A lot of people have certainly heard him – on the early Rutles recordings – and seen him – in the Rutles movie, in which he played Leppo, the fifth Rutle who disappeared.

No matter how great Ollie’s part in the Rutles was, there’s far more to him than this, however.

Emerging in the early 1960s as the vibes player in a band called Timebox with singer Mike Patto at the helm, Ollie taught himself to play guitar whilst with Timebox and when the band morphed into the sublime Patto, he was ready to play some of the most amazing guitar you’ll ever hear and all by 1970. He was a bloody good pianist too.

No-one in rock before him had ever played guitar like Ollie.

Absolutely no-one.

His playing was defined by long winding runs given an amazing fluency by his use of hammer-ons and pull-offs and all within musical structures which owed little to blues and more to jazz and even, dare I say, fusion.

Ollie’s late-blooming prowess on guitar influenced a young Alan Holdsworth when the two met in John Hiseman’s Tempest after Patto split up. Holdsworth’s refinement of Halsall’s legato runs, in turn, influenced a certain young chap called Edward Van Halen who wrote a whole new chapter of what became known as shred guitar. Listen to Eddie’s playing and you can hear Halsall in there as clear as day.

Make no mistake, Ollie was an unknown but highly innovative player whose explorations of long fluid runs mark him as one of the key figures in the development of modern rock guitar.

His recorded legacy is patchy, to say the least. Like virtually all great lead guitarists, his major work is as a backing musician – not as the featured player. Consequently, we have a handful of Patto releases, collaborations with people like Kevin Ayres and John Cale, albums with his later band Boxer when he was united with Mike Patto and various other recordings – many made on the continent during one of Ollie’s length stays abroad.

I can only whole-heatedly recommend the Patto studio releases – all of which feature plenty of very dense and intense playing. To be honest, it’s not always easy listening due to its sheer mass in terms of notes per second. My favourite Ollie track is ‘Loud Green Song’ from a bootleg of BBC radio sessions where he shows what he could do with his style in a straightforward rock setting.

Unfortunately, Ollie’s life story wasn’t a particularly happy one. Dead from a heroin overdose in 1992 aged just 43, Ollie enjoyed getting regularly wrecked on anything he could get his hands on. Even the rest of Patto – his most rewarding association – seem to have shared his bad luck, with Mike Patto dying of cancer, bassist Clive Jenkins currently suffering from severe brain damage and drummer John Halsey physically disabled – from the same car accident as Jenkins.

Sure, listen to Ollie and you’ll hear lots of qualities and characteristics that marked early shred and fusion guitar and now seem hackneyed, but then think when he was playing like this – in 1970.

So, there we have my own personal Holy Trinity of rock guitar – Clapton, Bloomfield and Halsall.

All I can add to this influential and indispensible mix of key players is Hendrix’s use of the recording studio as an extension of his guitar playing and I believe we have the key elements of modern rock guitar and the right people credited – something long overdue in the cases of Mike Bloomfield and Ollie Halsall.

For much, much more on Ollie please go here. It’s an excellent resource and has video and audio clips of Ollie.