Thursday, 29 July 2010

BKO by Dirtmusic

A combination of north African desert blues and some indie grunge combine on this album which includes members who have variously played with The Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth and The Lemonheads.
Sometimes it works but at others it is downright annoying – track two, a cover of The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, being possibly the worst offender.
Once you get past that BKO carries you along on its laid back, slightly edgy vibe but never really reaches the intensity of say a Tinariwen or Ali Farka Touré album.
Most of the tracks were recorded in the Malian capital Bamako, which is where the title comes from – BKO is the city’s airport designation,
Dirtmusic venture into the sounds of north Africa are borrowings and nodding acknowledgements and while many of the tracks feature Touareg band Tamikrest they take on the role as an accompaniment rather than full-on collaborators.
Opening track Black Gravity is a good example of what Dirtmusic are about, a crunching guitar riff that screams sand and heat with a hard indie rock sensibility.
This is a well packaged album, with a DVD included and comprehensive sleeve notes. Worth borrowing.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Two novels by Arturo Prérez-Reverte

The Dumas Club is a literary detective story with a large dollop of Gothic horror dumped in. A Madrid-based second-hand book dealer, Corsa, is asked to authenticate a handwritten manuscript containing an original chapter of The Three Muskateers by Alexander Dumas.
At the same time he is tasked with authenticating The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, an occult text whose author is said to have collaborated with the devil and who was burnt at the stake in the 17th century.
The two tales intertwine and times even seem to be connected and Perez Reverte displays impressive insights into the life and works of Dumas and the occult.
A series of illustrations give this novel an interactive element that allows the reader to undertake the role of detective and there is a certain satisfaction in spotting clues.
The novel was reworked by director Roman Polanski for the movie The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp, which did away with the Dumas plotline and played up the satanic elements, although it was not a bad film.
Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez Reverte is a former war correspondent and he draws on this part of his career for the novel The Painter of Battles.
A former war photographer, Andres Faulques, lives in a cliff top building on whose inside walls he is painting a huge sprawling anti-war picture. He draws on scenes that he has witnessed and historic battles.
However, a Croatian war veteran turns up and threatens to kill him because a picture that he took of him during the Balkans conflict ultimately led to his wife and young son being singled out and killed by Serbs.
The novel flashed back to Faulques’s life as a war photographer in war zones throughout the world and his haunted memories of the death of his lover who died in the Balkans.
Intertwined are a series of set-pieces meditations and dialogue with his would-be killer on art and war.
Again Perez-Reverte draws on an eclectic range of references but avoids sounding too smug.
The Painter of Battles is in no way as pacy as The Dumas Club and is more a novel of ideas than of events.

Friday, 2 July 2010

En el camino/Sur la route

Figueres, north of Barcelona, is where Salvador Dali chose to leave his last statement to the world. As well as his grave it includes many of his best-known works and some which should probably have been buried with him.
The Dali museum suffers from too many people milling around, not really knowning what they are supposed to be looking at or how to react. It is a combination of tacky kitsch and some genuinely fine art.
From Figueres it was a 150 km drive across the border and into France to Carcasone, a medieval walled city which seems to be thriving on the Da Vinci Code-inspired pseudo history surrounding the Knights Templar.
It is an easy place to be in and the streets below the cathedral were home to a chilled out little hotel with a tranquil garden, some nice wine and decent food.
The walled city itself can get a bit crowded but there are plenty of nooks and corners to explore away from the throng.
From there it was a cross-country track past Toulouse, with a quick diversion to have a look around Lourdes, and into Bayonne.
This small city in the French Basque Country is easy to find your way about in. It was a slightly edgy place, maybe because our hotel was beside the train station, with people lurking in doorways and surreptitiously passing envelopes to one another, which gave it a backstreet feel.
The Bonnat Art Museum was a highlight with a selection of Rubens, Le Gréco and Goyas hanging on its walls. There were also some decent and not-too expensive restaurants.
However, Monday’s are not a good day to visit Bayonne as many public buildings seem to close.
The next day we were back on the road and travelled to the Basque capital Bilbao which is normally one of my favourite cities to visit but which was pounded by torrential rain for the two days that we were there.
Even a visit to the normally excellent Guggenheim was a disappointment - collections by Robert Rauschenberg and Henri Rousseau were nor particularly inspiring, although the work of British artist Anish Kapoor was worth seeing.
Probably the fact that we got soaked walking the short distance from our hotel to the museum and squelched our way through the galleries didn’t help my critical appraisal.
That afternoon the rain got heavier and the hotel reception told me to move out hire car from the underground carpark because it was flooding and I spent an hour and half driving around Bilbao’s rain-sodden streets searching for a new parking place.
Things dried up by the time we set off to Cantabria and the absurdly picturesque village of Santillana Del Mar, pictured above.
With parts of its church dating to the 12th century, cobbled street and musky guesthouses with wooden balconies this is a place to chill out.
A medieval market was taking place compete with comely wenches dressed in flowing robes, smoking a fags and chatting on their mobiles.
Craft and food stalls preched precariously on the village’s cobble streets, while falcons and eagles swooped from rooftops onto a falconers arm.
A drive in to the Pico’s de Europa which straddles Cantabria and neighbouring Asturias was a highlight, as was a dish of razor clams, one of my favourite dishes and one which I seem to spend far to much time trying to find.
However, ultimately it was a sausage which was my downfall, bought from a street stall in Santillana, it nestled for 12 hours in my stomach before pouncing and making its presence known.
It didn’t help matters that I was stricken by the dodgy chorizo on the day when we had to undertake our longest drive - 400kms from Santillana, back through the Basque Country, south in Navarra, passing through the Rioja wine region, and into the dusty desert planes of Aragon.
It was my second visit to Zaragoza where I’d arranged to meet a friend and her partner and after a day of not eating was relishing the thought of food and some convivial company.
However, as soon as we walked into a tapas bar and the smell of food hit my nostrils I felt my stomach churning and the after taste of the deadly chorizo gurgled up in the back of my throat.
Course after course of tapas, raciones and pinchos came to our table into which Sinead and our Spanish friends Raquel and Raul contentedly tucked in while I was forced to nibble on dry bread and drink water and try not to throw up over everything.
Next day the stomach was slightly better and I had some breakfast and enjoyed the sights of Zaragoza and returned to same bar that evening to enjoy some of the food I had missed out out on.
Next day it was back to Barcelona for the last few days of our holiday where we tended to linger in the quieter back streets away from the throbbing mass of humanity meandering up and down Las Ramblas.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Requiems for the Departed launch

What is the collective noun for a group of crime writers?
Three weeks after the event here is a picture taken at No Alibis bookshop in Belfast at the launch of the Irish crime fiction anthology Requiems for the Departed.
From left to right are Stuart Neville, John McAllister, Tammy (TA) Moore, Arlene Hunt, me, Brian McGilloway and Gerard Brennan.
Requiems for the Departed is now available worldwide, with a 28% discount in the US through Barnes & Noble and free shipping worldwide through The Book Depository. Paperback edition is also still available at the Morrigan Books site too, along with the limited edition hardback (now down to less than 30 copies available).