Traveling through Paris during the 2015 attacks

I didn’t really want to touch the subject of the Paris attacks and the ensuing international panic at the time, hence it has taken me a long time to revisit my trip first trip to France – from November 2014. At the time, the presses reaction seemed typical, repetitious and all too remnant of the post 9/11 events over a decade ago. Murders took place and the immediate gut reaction by world powers was to cause more death. In the two months since, the topic of social media water-debate has well moved on from weather or not England should help in bombing Isis in the Middle East. More topics, tragedies and famous deaths have taken precedence. At the time I felt I wasn’t schooled enough in political history to know whether increasing bombing in Syria and the surrounding areas was the right thing to do. So I withheld opinion, even if my gut reaction was and is that peace should be achieved by means other than violence. I’m probably an idealist however.

But this is a travel blog – so lets move on from politics and discuss my first experiences with the most famous French city. My brother Callum and I had arrived in Paris in the morning of the 13th of November wide eyed and full of enthusiasm for checking out the Parisian sites. My first impressions were positive – the Eiffel tower loomed impressively in the distance and my first taste of French food while on French soil lived up to expectations. I bungled ordering a Baguette, being told off by a shop assistant for lifting up the packaging to see what fillings were inside. I couldn’t yet read any of the labels or understand that the lady was yelling at me – but my brother soon twigged and told me to stop fondling the baguettes. The next mission involved viewing the Eiffel Tower, which was every bit as impressive as the hype had led me to believe. We wandered around the area beside the tower for a while and marveled at the impressive architecture the Parisians have amassed over various political and cultural phase. Darkness hit, the tower was lit up, and then it was back to the hotel. A quiet first day, as me and my brother who was my traveling companion had planned to see more of the city, including the Louvre the next day.

paris november 13th 2016 eiffel tower

That night my brother and I went off to explore the Latin Quarter, the famous area of winding streets, restaurants and markets that would have once housed much of Paris’ artist community. My brother returned to the hotel early, while I kept exploring solo. I had no idea of what was taking place elsewhere in Paris on Friday the 13th of November as I strolled through the Latin Quarter, searching for music venues and enjoying the vibrant feel of the cities nightlife. The vibe there was electric – I had managed to stumble upon a local jazz group playing a cover of Sloop John B. A couple started swing dancing in response to the street jazz band. It seemed a serendipitous occurrence, to have seen something that embodied the stereotypical view of a cultured France. After a bit more walking through the streets, I made my way to an underground Medieval-era bar, Caveau des Oubliettes. A blues band was performing, of not exceptional skill, but the environment was unique.

It was only on my way home that I received worried text messages from both my parents saying that there had been a terrorist attack somewhere in Paris and asking if I was alright. I didn’t think a great deal of this at first, as we hear so much about violence taking place internationally on a daily basis, we become a bit desensitized to such warnings. I took the underground to meet Callum back at the hotel and observed the faces of the locals, wondering if what was taking place elsewhere was serious. There weren’t many people in the underground, but those there did look a bit concerned. One lady held her partners hand, staring sorrowfully into his eyes. The streets around the hotel were largely empty and once I got back to the hotel, Callum clued me up as to what was going on. The seriousness now dawned on me. I vaguely had a look at a news report stating an Eagles Of Death Metal concert had been shot at, but I didn’t want to think about that. I could have been at concert, given difference circumstances. So we decided to get some sleep, and re-evaluate the situation the next day.

We had promised our parents we wouldn’t take any risks the next day, but just after waking we decided to try and visit the Louvre as per our previous plans. My brother was rightfully a bit cautious about traveling through the city – there was police and military presence everywhere including on the tube, and therefore I didn’t feel particularly unsafe. We made our way to the Louvre and there were no queues and barely any crowds of people. It was looking like it might be an easy day to gain entrance due to the lack of crowds. We soon were made aware of the national day of morning – putting an end to our plans to visit any major Parisian activities. Never the less we still managed exploring the city, viewing the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Cœur at the highest point of Paris,  and visiting a few free art galleries. We finished our day with a very reasonably priced three course meal back in my favourite area, the Latin Quarter, so all-in-all it was an as-per-normal day of tourist activities. Just with a much heightened police presence.

The next day was my last day in France, so still no visit to the Lourve this time around. That will have to wait. Even though what happened in Paris was huge international consequence, from by point of view as a naive tourist, the city and it’s people showed no sign of giving into any fear. They were all going about their daily lives, and nothing ever felt unsafe. Which is perhaps more than can be said for the daily life of anyone still living in Damascus. I hate to overlook the losses within Paris – it’s horrible and tragic whenever large scale deaths occur within any community – but what happened in Paris was only an isolated incident. The happening in Syria and other such places is occurring daily. I’ve not a great deal of deep conclusions to draw from my time being in Paris during a large international incident – all I can say, is that from the point of view of an irresponsible and perhaps insensitive traveler such as myself – it was still a good place to visit. I can’t wait to go back.

hamish and callum in paris

Review: Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

There’s a lot of noise right now surrounding Kanye West, which seems to be the case whenever the man drops a new album. West is a master of the “any publicity is good publicity” promotion technique as we all know, even if it isn’t always intentional. Hatred of this rapper has magnified over the years, perhaps originating particularly with the Taylor Swift-Grammy’s incident of 2008. That’s been covered elsewhere so I’ll refrain from discussing in depth here. But since then, Kanye fans have had to increasingly find ways to defend their idol, with most months bringing another scandal or ludicrous (but quotable) remark. The press, and social media opinion are divided – there’s enough hatred in the comments thread of any Kanye related Facebook post to suggest that many people think West is not as groundbreaking, trendsetting or influential as he thinks he is. But his albums continue to sell well and garner near unanimous positive reviews – which can’t be said for many artists seven (or eight if you include Watch The Throne), into their solo careers.

Even if piracy has caused enormous effect to the actual physical sales of The Life Of Pablo – or rather, Tidal subscriptions it was intended to generate, being exclusively released in this platform – just the breaking of piracy records speaks of the interest in West’s music. So is it really deserving of all the positive reviews, or has Kanye’s creative ambitions begun to outweigh his actual musical output? Having now listened to it for over a week, I’m able to somewhat have an informed opinion. I attended the theater streaming of the TLOP album release at Madison Square Garden, and at that first listening I was pleased with what I heard. The solid but perhaps short album of the MSG premiere, that seemed to echo Yeezus’ sequencing, was satisfying but did not appear classic in the way Dark Fantasy nearly immediately did. It was hard to say at this stage whether it was really one of the greatest albums of all time, as West had tweeted. Now that the album has been released for real, it’s probably clear the claim is indeed a stretch to far. The actual release is a longer, denser and more unfocused product. The additions since MSG (Facts, 30 Hours, the return of No Party’s In L.A.) were welcome, as these are good songs, but they’re messily placed at the end of the album breaking from West’s usual skillful sequencing ability. They could be bonus tracks – perhaps the album truly ends with the haunting Wolves. But this is left unclear.

So while the sequencing could me Kanye’s most sprawling and mixtape-esque yet, this is not in-of-itself a sign that West has jumped the shark. Looking at the songs themselves, there is still a great deal of inspired moments, up there with Kanye’s previous best. Ultralight Beam continues his run of brilliant opening tracks, and is as startling a beginning as On Sight’s harsh electronics three years ago. Beam could be Kanye’s most obvious gospel moment yet, a tribute to his faith, but still heavy and experimental in production. The space between the choir vocals makes each lyric hit harder, and there is a haunting quality added by the backwards synths. Kanye introduces the track, but then lets Chance The Rapper spit the longest verse. It could be the best verse on the album, which perhaps speaks of Kanye’s somewhat diminishing lyrical ability – even though his productions still shine.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 reunites West with previous collaborator Kid Cudi over a brilliant soul beat that could have featured on The Collage Dropout. Kanye’s opening lyrics are unfortunate (rhyming asshole with asshole), yet speak of a continued theme from Yeezus – that of a man torn between the sex-party bachelor life of old and the responsibilities of being a parent. Other controversial lyrics through-out the album, such as the much discussed – “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why? I made that bitch famous” – on Famous,  adhere to this theme (albeit in that case, loosely). It is easy on the basis of these lyrics to state that Kanye’s wit has declined somewhat, but an argument could be made that he is still as comic and witty as ever – his comedic skills are now just being overlooked (justifiably due to his ego). One of my favorite moments is in the aptly titled Highlights, which incidentally is one of the catchiest on the album and features the best use of ‘gopro’ in a rhyme I could possible imagine. Even the interlude Freestyle 4 works. It’s another musing on sex in a club, but manages humour and darkness in equal terms. These moments seem casual – although the album has

Other musical highlights include Feedback, a great beat perhaps not backed up by as strong lyrics and Waves, where a Chris Brown hook is used in a surprisingly not so nauseating way. When the album goes dark, in remains effective, as on the introspective Real Friends, one of the albums most sincere lyrical moments, analyzing the difficulty of staying a true friend even when we try. FML, featuring The Weeknd returns to the theme of draw of lust and it’s negative effects, which shares more sonic and lyrical similarities with Yeezus moments like Hold My Liquor. Perhaps not as successfully though.

The album is in parts a sequel to the dark and sparse introspection of Yeezus and in parts a return to the more upbeat and sprawling early albums. Kanye acknowledges his own transformation between these eras on the I Love Kanye acapella (which once had beat – the leaked OG version of the album revealed) – another apparently controversial moment that’s being discussed more than the actual music. TLOP is not as focused as Yeezus, and the songwriting and lyrics not to the standard of what I consider to be his best album and artistic peak, My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy. But there are enough great moments on the album to prove that Kanye hasn’t yet lost his midus touch, even if this is an album to pick and chose from, rather than play from start to finish. So if the detractors want another reason why the fans stick to their hero in spite of any shortcomings – TLOP proves, the music remains enough.

Travel: Morocco (part 2) – The Chaos of Marrakesh

In the last blog I detailed my first day in Morocco, a brief exploration of the beach side town of Essaouira. I was only in Morocco for 3 nights, so although I was only just getting my bearings in Essaouira, I soon found myself rushing off to Marrakesh. The short bus journey took 2 hours, the highlight of which a stop at a rural cafe, where I got my first taste of Moroccan mint tea. Also known as Berber whiskey (for the Berber people traditionally don’t drink alcohol), the mint tea was available in every cafe and restaurant and was always a welcome refreshment. When the bus eventually entered Marrakesh, I immediately noted the frantic nature of the place compared to Essaouira. Hoards of bus drivers approached me as I exited the bus, all vying for my dirhams. I managed to talk one driver into giving me a pretty good price, so I was soon on my way to the Riad (which is a traditional Moroccan house).
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The Marrakesh traffic was mad, with lanes filled with motorbikes, taxis and cars. The driver insisted not to use my seat belt, which seemed standard among all taxi drivers I encountered. After being let out of the taxi seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I eventually found the Riad, and met up with my fellow New Zealand traveling companion Stefan. We decided to venture into the central market for dinner. The chaos continued as we followed the streets of Marrakesh into the market square. The place was crammed – with people selling things, taxis parked, motorbikes, cyclists, cars and horses. A bit of a difference to the relative calm of Essaouira. We made it to the market and the confrontational style of Marrakesh market owners was immediately apparent. Store owners will approach you directly, especially if you’re a tourist, to convince you to buy their stock or eat at their establishment.  If you’re good at saying no it won’t be hard to resist, but if you’re soft, you could easily find yourself shelling over considerable amounts for trinkets and things you probably don’t need. Market owners will double the price of anything if you’re a tourist – so haggling and bargaining is absolutely necessary to get a good deal.
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We walked around this for a short time, spotting local performers, drum circles and guitarists performing. Not staying long however, as too long a pause and you’re likely to be accosted by a local to hand over some dirhams. We eventually found a small tent to eat at, and to great pleasure I dined on my first Tagine. A Targine is a traditional Berber dish, named after the Targine pot that it’s cooked and served piping hot in, and is somewhat similar to a stew. It comes with a variety of meats such as Chicken, Lamb, Beef and sometimes Rabbit, with a spicy sauce, with olives and maybe dates and a few vegetables. They are delicious and a major culinary highlight for visiting Morocco.
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Later that night we explored the bar scene in Marrakesh, which isn’t huge as being a mostly dry Muslim country, the majority of the drinking is partaken by the tourists. We found a pretty touristy piano bar and had a few cocktails by a swimming pool, before relocating to a more authentic local bar. Drinking the local beer, Casablanca, we made friends with a local musician working at the establishment, and attempted to jam along with his Oud guitar riffs. The night was slipping by, and it wasn’t until 1pm that we would leave the club, heading back to our Riad in order to get a bit of sleep before the day trip we had planned – which would be beginning at 7am the next morning. It took sometime to escape the bar without offending the locals (or getting into trouble), as a couple of men at the bar were attempting to sell us things we probably didn’t need – perhaps taking advantage of our tourist ways. We got home, but not before being followed by a random man. The walk to the Riad was definitely uncomfortable, due to this man shadowing us. We gave him a cigarette, made it safely into our Riad, and were happy to end the night. Perhaps a slight warning the Marrakesh is not the safest at night, if you happen to go drinking.
Ait-Ben-Haddou ksar
The next morning saw Stefan and I slightly hazily embarking on our day return trip to see Aït Ben-Haddou, a mud-brick ksar against a mountainside, the set of many famous films such as Lawrence Of Arabia, Gladiator as well as another Moroccan location for Game Of Thrones. A Unesco world heritage site, this ksar is one of the best surviving examples of pre-Saharan Berber architecture, built around 17th century (but propagated from very early period architecture from the area) It’s a four hour drive from Marrakesh to Aït Ben-Haddou, winding through the atlas mountains, some of the highest peaks in North Africa. We’d planned to join a tour group to travel to the mud-brick ksar, although due to a booking error on my travel companions behalf, we ended up on a private tour. I was slightly hungover from the night before and being stuck in a car for many hours with just Stefan and our driver-guide Mustafa initially seemed a slight disappointment, as I had hoped to meet fellow travelers via a tour group. But the private tour had it’s positives – Mustafa was a very educated and gave us plenty of information on the Berber and Arab people in the area. We stopped off at an abandoned kasbah along the way – a ruin on the outside yet nearly untouched in elaborate design on the inside. The landscape was spectacular and Mustafa gave us plenty of opportunity to stop and take photos.
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Once we reached Aït Ben-Haddou, we first stopped for lunch, this time trying the cous-cous on a rooftop restaurant with a view of the ksar. Sometimes – sitting a spectacular spot such as this one, viewing an ancient architectural monument, makes one feel that are pretty fortunate, and also fairly undeserving of experiencing such sights. Our generation has travel so easy, you can start to take for granted opportunities to see parts of the world that our ancestors would have had no chance to see. Being among places of splendor can seem transcendent, but just as much they can be fairly unaffecting. To this extent, we finished our meal, eating one of the best oranges I’ve ever eaten (Moroccan fruit and vegetables are notably delicious) and then with a Berber guide we were taken through-out the ksar. Regular people were living their lives in this celebrated traditional structure, with tourists in groups milling through-out. We were taken to the of the hill the the ksar sits beside, and were able to gaze down upon the structure, as well as some of the Lawrence of Arabia film set that still remained. Mustafa would later take us down to stand among the film set – which was a big highlight for me. I was able to touch the construction, see how hollow it was, and noted that up close how not that convincing the paint work appeared.
Aït Benhaddou morocco
Then it was time to drive back to Marrakesh. The next four hours I would drift in and out of sleep, gazing upon the Moroccan landscape speeding by. I had seen hidden parts of North Africa that only a few years ago I could not have imagined actually being in a position to see, but for such brief a time, it was hard to know whether I was really able to make the most of it, or truly appreciate it at the time.

Travel: Morocco (part 1) – The Beach of Essaouira

My Moroccan holiday had started in a typically frantic style. After getting next to no sleep the night before, I made my way to Luton airport and onto a 7am flight to Essaouira. I had originally planned a 2 hour camel trip, and to be picked up from the airport by the guide, although I had cancelled this the night before, predicting my sleep deprivation. I was glad of this, as I managed to take the day at my own pace, meeting an expat local at the airport who offered me advice and allowed me to share his taxi into the Medina.

I was immediately struck by the pleasantness of Essaouira. The road from the airport to the town winded tightly around modest looking orange houses, passing small farms and assortment of animals – goats and sheep mostly. The weather was warm, the sky blue, a welcome contrast from the grey London that I’d just left. I noted the sticky sweet scent in the air, perhaps a smell that permeates countries of warm, tropical climates. I noticed a similiar smell in Kuala Lumpur and Heraklion. Each of these places I’m sure have their own distinct aroma, but the Essaouira aroma for sure brought back memories of those places. Just stepping foot in a Mediterranean climate, and having my senses immersed for the first time in North Africa was a thrill.

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My British taxi companion, who owned a holiday home in the center of Essaouira, imparted valuable advice as we rolled into the Medina. I learnt the cost of catching a Taxi around the Medina, an affordable 7 Dirham (about 50p), as well as where the good drinking spots were found (which he indicated were filled with interesting characters) and that if I wanted a feed, the market at the wharf was best. There you get fresh fish of your choice and have it cooked in front of you. As a appealing as that sounded, I opted to first head to a bus depot and book my bus later that day to Marrakesh, which for 100 Dirham secured myself a seat on a comfortable Supratours coach.

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I then taxi’d straight to the beach entrance, where a mass of Camels were lazy spread out on the sand. As I stood surveying the beach, wondering which Camel was to be my ride of choice, a Berber guide came straight up to me, towing two Camels behind him. He asked me if I wanted a ride, to which I asked of he could take me to the castle’s made of sand. He indicated yes, and mentioned the Jimi Hendrix cafe, something I had a vague interest in seeing, in spite of the exaggerations of the amount of time Hendrix actually spent in Essaouira. Having researched about the culture of haggling in Morocco, I tried my skills out for the first and eventually agreed on good price for an hours Camel ride. I was a initially little wary that this would be the most quality ride, seeing as my Camel looked a bit past it’s prime. Cappuccino, as he was named, was also reluctant to sit down, the guide had to give it a small whip around the legs with his rope to encourage it to do so. The camel knelt down with a groan and in spite of my reservations, I hopped on the seat on the poor old creatures back. Cappuccino set off shuffling down the beach, with a friend Camel following behind, and my guide holding the rope in front. The experience was a slightly odd one, and while it was a  fun and slightly surreal introduction to Essaouira, I was happy I had chosen just the hour long ride, and not the 2 hour trek as previously planned. I did not make it to the Hendrix cafe, although I saw some nice sand dunes, and the guide was good enough to take photos for me. Perhaps If I return to Essaouira, I will chose a healthier looking Camel, to make the animal rights side of my personality a little less guilty.

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Now off the Camel, I tipped my guide for his extra help taking photos (and a music video shot), and proceeded to a beach side cafe for a beer, and to change into togs. Hurling myself into the North African sea, ignoring the slight chill, I spent a good hour rolling amongst the considerable surf. Many other travelers had the same idea, although most people I shared the water with were showing off impressive surfing skills. Essaouira, I soon learnt, has waves just right for surfing, hence the share amount of them out in the water. I took to body surfing, and met a couple of Danish blokes body boarding nearby. We exchanged brief pleasantries, before they took to the task of catching waves with much concentration. I bobbed around in the water a bit longer, appreciating the novelty of being in the North African sea, before returning to land.

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Back at the beach side cafe, I met a British man working from a camper-van in Essaouira –  he has traveled here to chase the sun and escape the British winter, and also his girlfriend who had just that day joined him. She recognized me from the airport, having had been on the same flight. The next few hours slipped away in a haze of beer and baileys, and before I knew it I had only 30 minutes to make the bus I had booked to Marrakesh. Not wanting to leave without seeing some of the port, I said goodbye to my new friends, and quickly ran to the nearest taxi I could find. Having made it to the port, in less than 10 minutes I ran to the sites I had been interested in – the location where they had filmed some of Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3. I had to give the guards 20 Dirham, as the port entrance was near closing time, but having quickly snapped the desired photos, I again grabbed a taxi and rushed in the direction of the bus depot. Somehow I made it in time, and with a few minutes to spare I boarded the bus.

On the road to Marrakesh, there are apparently goats perplexingly standing in trees. This seemed something to witness, though in part due to the sleep deprivation of catching an early flight, and also due to the drinks consumed, I soon nodded off. The tree standing goats would have to wait ’till my next Moroccan visit.

Next time – the chaos of Marrakesh, adventures to the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and how to fall for the most obvious of Moroccan tourist traps.

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Travel: Heading to Morocco – Unorganized and Ill-prepared

Two nights ago, I impulsively booked flights to visit Morocco this weekend – this will be my first time in Northern Africa, and I’m both excited and a little nervous. I’m travelling first to the small seaside of Essaouira, where I plan to see the beach, the harbour walls (used as a set for Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3), and then partake in a Camel trek across the beach to an area where famous hippies such as Jimi Hendrix purportedly adventured. I will then bus to Marrakesh, where I will join my Kiwi companion and hardened adventurer Stefan, where we shall explore the streets and secrets of this famous city. I hope to watch Stefan attempt to haggle with local traders, and will most likely be amused at his attempts not to be ripped off. We also have a day-trip planned to the Atlas Mountains, where some of the classic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of both camels and David Lean’s classic film about T.S. Lawrence, and seeing both these things in person will be quite a thrill.

game of thrones morocco essaouira

I would hardly call myself experienced at this traveling business, having really only started exploring this side of the world recently (such as my brief trip to Greece), so there are a few things that I am a tad anxious about. I have already been warned from many of my friends who have already visited Morocco, that you’re bound to be ripped off by local traders in the markets. I’m not great at hard bargaining, and I expect I’ll pay more than full price if I attempt to enter into haggling situations, so I may avoid shopping if I can. Crime seems to be a bit of an issue, and apparently if taking photos around busy areas, I could risk having to pay a charge to any traders or opportunists who I happen to snap. I’m not sure how much of this is true, and how much is people being cautious.

Adding to my worries, here are a few more quotes from the UK Government travel advice page:

“Morocco has a poor road safety record. In 2013, nearly 4,000 people were killed and over 100,000 injured as a result of traffic accidents.”

“There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco.”

These quotes obviously don’t fill me with confidence, especially as I plan to catch a bus from Essaouira, something I’ve not yet organized. But to travel to a country of such cultural renown, a site of importance for the hippy generation, the background for many famous films and with it’s own rich historical background is obviously very exciting. So provided I can sort my plans out and calm my nerves, this should be a great holiday.

Will my coming weekend in Morocco be a brilliant trip, or comedy of errors?  Watch this space to find out.

Travel Details:

Flight #1 – London to Essaouira, Easyjet, £37.50 (booked five days in advance of travel)

Flight #2 – Marrakesh to London, Thomson, £59

Accommodation – Riad Amin (Marrakesh), shared twin room, £50pp 4 nights

Thoughts on David Bowie (Rest In Peace, 1947 – 2016)

David Bowie means a lot of things to a lot of people. This is obvious with the outpouring of memorials all over social media. This morning when I woke up, upon picking up my phone the first thing I saw was someone changing their Facebook profile to Bowie’s iconic image of Ziggy Stardust. I scrolled down a little further, to see the news of his passing from Pitchfork. Unable or unwilling to react to the news immediately, I slept for another hour, dreaming of Bowie, to be awoken by my BBC Radio 6 alarm setting with tributes from on air. At least in London, mainstream media today has been almost solely and rightfully focused on Bowie’s life and influence, and so too have my friends, as I spent much of the day reading their dedications.

The sheer amount of regular people and famous fans alike that expressing sadness at his passing speaks of the man’s importance to popular culture. There is barely a strand of modern music that Bowie did not play some part in innovating in his 70s peak. His work never diminished, even if his audience became at times more niche. Being the androgynous role model that he was, his music spoke to people regardless of gender, generation and race. As I write this I am down at an impromptu memorial to Bowie which has broken out in his birth suburb of Brixton in London. Stretching from a Bowie mural and reaching down to Brixton Oval, thousands of people have congregated, laying flowers, painting faces (and statues) with the Stardust bolt and with singalongs rampantly breaking out aided with the P.A. equipment of local residents. It’s a Bowie block party and a mini-festival, with all kinds of misfits and music fans gathered together.

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There’s probably a lot of reasons why Bowie means so much to so many. Most obviously is the music. Generations have grown up with songs like Space Oddity, Life On Mars, Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes and Lets Dance sound-tracking our lives. His ability to innovate and defy expectations has made him a critical favourite, where his pop sensibilities have equally kept him commercially relevant. Most inspiring to me though, is Bowie’s approach to his own career. His frequent and fearless approach to changing up his style and identity provides a guide to how the rest of us mere mortals can too approach change in our lives. Musicians often get stuck repeating the same formulas, so too do the rest of us in regards to careers or habits. Bowie’s legacy is one of disregard to conformity – if one idea has exhausted it’s potential, move on to a new career in a new town. Just as Bowie dropped glam rock for funk at the height of his popularity, or pop for a return to his rock roots in the late 80s, we too can apply this mindset to more everyday situations. If a job or relationship isn’t working out right, moving on and reinventing is always an option. Even if Bowie makes changing your style cooler and more effortless than a great many of us ever could.

For some reason at points throughout the last decade, I’d found myself imagining what a world without Bowie would be like. Before the release of his 2013 album The Next Day, it seemed like that could come anytime, given his almost complete withdrawal from public appearances and projects. I wanted to believe, that if any of our classic rock idols, Bowie would be the invincible one (he certainly seemed the most otherworldly). With the release of Blackstar last week, it seemed like that might be true. Bowie had seemed healthy albeit a bit wizened in the last few music videos, and he seemed to have lost no energy, finding time to write and stage an off-Broadway sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth sound-tracked by his music. I had spent this weekend internalizing the new album, which I found to be slighter but more completely realized than The Next Day. Blackstar’s jazzy and sprawling first half put the album up there with the most experimental of Bowie’s musical efforts, although the 2nd half featured a couple of classic ballads, finishing with the touching, I Can’t Give Everything Away. Sounding like Strangers When We Meet, with Low-era production and a haunting harmonica riff, it could be one of Bowie’s best songs of the last twenty years. Before this morning, I had neglected to register the many references to death within that song, and on the album. Such as this lyric from the title track Blackstar, where he appears to be acknowledging his end, and passing the torch somewhat;

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

I’m sure there will be many more artists that come close to Bowie’s level of success and many that imitate his chameleon approach to a music career, but I doubt that a torch can really be passed. Bowie’s passing for me signifies an end to a particular era of culture. Although some stars of 1960s and 70s music remain active, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and The Rolling Stones to name some, Bowie’s passing seems significant in reminding how finite this era of music really is. Culturally, this is a loss up there in impact with the loss of John Lennon, Michael Jackon, Freddie Mercury and Elvis. Bowie’s loss has reminded me that these legends won’t be around forever, and neither will we. Rock music, as permanent a movement as it may seem, is a passing thing, as mortal as we are. But rather than seeing this finality as grim, we can look positively to all that Bowie has laid out for us. We may not be able to carry his torch, but we can at least take inspiration from this most ambitious, creative, trendsetting and alive of artists.

I would like to end with this sentiment from Twitter user Dean Podesta, who I think said it quite well;

Journal: A Kiwi in London, looking back on ’15

A few months ago, I wrote a blog on London weather. In it I complained that it had proved to be nowhere near as cold as I was told it would be. I had predicted eating my words, that it would get cold, and I had expected this by mid-December. It’s now at the end of December and about to pass into a new year, and yet I’m still not freezing. We had one Saturday that felt especially cold in the middle of November, but largely, the winter months have been underwhelming.

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Perhaps global warming is therefore doing it’s thing. I’ll try not spend the whole of my last blog of 2015 discussing the weather, but perhaps my interest in doing so shows just how the British have rubbed off on me. I’ve been in London six months now, and I feel I’m pretty used to the place now. The gimmick of being in the biggest Great Britain city has now worn off, and what was once unique is now commonplace. I no longer find the underground an interesting experience, instead it is a bore. I still find the European architecture, the mix of Georgian, Victorian and Industrial influences inspiring, although I much less frequently find new interesting places in London to explore. I frequently find myself at Oxford Circus, surrounded by shuffling tourists blocking my path and slowing my down – basically I’m finding complaining a standard part of my day to day behavior. That could only mean the London mind-set has rubbed off on me.

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I’m still happy I’ve moved to London, even though I do find myself missing things back on the other side of the world. I made some good friends living in Auckland, as well as many old friends back in Dunedin, of whom I miss equally, as well as my old job and lifestyle. I tend to get caught up in nostalgia and not appreciate what I’m doing in the present, but at the same time I think it’s good to remember where you’ve came from. I don’t plan to get lost permanently on this side of the world, but at least I can think fondly on having conquered the fear of moving out of my home country. When I move back, which I will inevitably do, I can look back on this experience with a sense of accomplishment.

I can look back on my 2015 adventures with pride. One year ago I was irritating my friends and family, quizzing them as to whether they thought I should move overseas. I had a Glastonbury ticket, but as late as March I was still dithering as to whether or not I would really leave.  For some reason I was able to pull the trigger and I don’t regret it. There’s a lot I’ve had to leave behind, but a lot I’ve gained as well. Experiencing Glastonbury, seeing Greece, Holland, France and Italy are just a few of the unexpected surprises that this year held. Not to mention experiencing being part of the UK workforce, working for major international companies, and making new friends on this side of the world. Back in June I started a series of blogs called, A Season Of Firsts – this tracked my progress making it from New Zealand to United Kingdom in more detail.

It was already an action packed year, even before this whole UK experience. Back in February, I managed to reunite with my high school band, Incarnate. This was also not something I’d ever counted on, given that I moved to a different city as them, and the rest of the members moved onto new projects (although I played with several of the members briefly after Incarnate as Ignite The Helix, a project which is still active). It was great to literally get the band back together, and the strong turnout we received at Dunedin (NZ) venue, Chicks Hotel was gratifying. We filmed this gig from a few angles, and I’m proud of the final result. Incarnate was a particularly memorably part of my music career, and I hope it won’t be the last time we play together (if it is, this gig was a good way to end the short life of our passionate young metal band).

I attended a lot of concerts through-out the year as well. Laneway kicked things off in January with memorable sets from Ariel Pink, Future Islands and Flying Lotus, later I was to see Drake at Vector Arena – and perhaps the most suprisingly entertaining musical event of the first half of the year was Auckland’s second Westfest. This mini-Soundwave for New Zealand featured such metal and rock big names as Soundgarden, Faith No More, Judas Priest and Lamb Of God. The organizers may have sold slightly less tickets than expected (there’s a rumour that losses ran into the millions) but those that attended received a great day of entertainment. Norwegian band Mayhem headlined a smaller stage during Faith No More, and as I had a high school fascination with this band, I was grateful to have the opportunity to see them live. At the after party I ran into Necrobutcher, original bassist of the band, who turned out to be a really cool guy. It’s not often you get to share Vodka with a member of an infamous band and discuss some pretty serious stuff. I wrote a blog on this as well, and I hope the band won’t object to me sharing some of my thoughts on their career. The music continued through-out the year, I wrote about Glastonbury here, and most recently Peaches, who played a great sold at show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom.

I’ve also managed to continue film and music projects throughout the year. In June, I filmed two music videos, one for Ignite The Helix (featuring members of Incarnate) and one for my rap project, Posse In Effect. Posse In Effect’s video for We Came Here To Party, off our second EP Lazarus has been completed and is now out of the public to digest (any views would be much appreciated). This is a slapstick comedy short film, and perhaps more disco/rock than rap. Directed by Andy Weston and myself, it was filmed in Melbourne and shot on a variety of DSLR’s (but mostly the Canon M3) so the footage is a little inconsistent, but I feel the humour was well executed. I also managed to include some footage shot in Athens, within a dream sequence. The video for Ignite The Helix’s Throwing Scissors is nearing completion, but still requires a few re-edits. I hope to have this released in the next few months, upon the release of the song (as the band is still putting the finishing touches on their debut EP).

I’m not sure if this blog will have been interesting to anyone but myself, but looking back on 2015 I realize, I’ve achieved a great deal I’m proud of. London’s not all bad, and though I’m glad I came here, I won’t feel negative to return home soon. I look forward to 2016 and whatever it will bring – and I hope for all of us, it will be as easy a year as any could possibly be. Lets hope the war in Syria ends without too high a casualty rate as well, and that the refugee situation does not get any worse, to get political. I also hope the New Zealand flag doesn’t change. More from me later, for now, 2015 is just another year of “auld lang syne” (good tune, Robbie Burns).