Cross Rail, London

Finally, it’s happened.  At last, an engineering triumph to be proud of – an epic feat of engineering which can be compared to the marvels of the original the Industrial Revolution, in the country which gave birth to modern world – Great Britain (can you guess I’m British?).

I have been lamenting the lack of vision and what you can only be described as ‘greatness’ of achievement in construction and engineering for a long time.  Our touch-screen, nano-technology world is astounding in many ways, and a lot of the things dreamed of by previous generations have become reality – quite literally the future is now.  Which is all well and good – but it doesn’t provide a sense of awe, it doesn’t make your mouth drop open and go ‘wow’.

Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), Frank Whittle (1907-1996), John Harrison (1693-1776) Alan Turing (1912-1954), Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) – and the list goes on!  All great names who changed the world with their leaps of imagination and dogged determination.  The subject of this article may not have one particular name to highlight (a whole range of architectural firms are involved in the new and re-modeled stations, but I cannot find a name for the design of the tunnel and the overall project), but, like Bazalgette, we are heading beneath the streets of London.

Cross Rail is a truly epic undertaking, creating 42Km of new tunnels under the capital; and what is so encouraging about this new type of construction is that the whole process has been thought through from beginning to end – for example, the vast amounts of spoil which have been generated has not just been dumped somewhere, it has been used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.  Engineering with the environment in mind is engineering at it’s best.

Interestingly, although the building of the route has finally happened in the 21st century, it was actually proposed in the 19th and again in the 20th century (see here for more info on that).

Here are some photos, and here you can see videos of the construction on the Cross Rail YouTube page:-

Crossrail Tunnel Boring MachineCrossrail Shaft CrossrailCrossrail breakthrough Crossrail Full WidthCrossrail Route Map Geographic OutlineTo give some idea of the scale of this project here are a few fact from the Cross Rail website (edited from, here):-

General Info

  • Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project – work started in May 2009 and there have been over 10,000 people working across over 40 construction sites.
  • Over 62 million working hours have been completed on the Crossrail project so far.
  • Crossrail will transform rail transport in London, increasing capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city.
  • The Crossrail route will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
  • There will be 40 Crossrail stations including 10 new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood.
  • Crossrail will bring an extra 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes of central London and will link London’s key employment, leisure and business districts – Heathrow, West End, the City, Docklands – enabling further economic development.
  • The first Crossrail services through central London will start in late 2018 – an estimated 200 million annual passengers will use Crossrail.

Tunneling

  • A total of eight tunnelling machines are being used to construct the new rail tunnels under London. Tunnelling is now complete.
  • The tunnelling machines in the west were called Phyllis and Ada and have completed their journeys, constructing 6.8km of tunnel each between Royal Oak to Farringdon.  In the east they were called Elizabeth and Victoria and were constructing new tunnels between Limmo Peninsular in Canning Town, and Farringdon.  In south-east London the machines’ names were Sophia and Mary and have completed their 2.9km drives from Plumstead to North Woolwich.  The tunnel boring machines Jessica and Ellie have completed their 2.7km tunnel drives from Pudding Mill Lane portal near Stratford to Stepney Green.  The tunnelling machines Jessica and Ellie have also completed their second tunnel drives – a 900 metre drive from Limmo Peninsual in Canning Town and Victoria Dock Portal.
  • Each tunnelling machine is a 1,000 tonne, 150 metres long underground factory with 20 person ‘tunnel gangs’ working in shifts.
  • At peak, the tunnelling machines aim for around 100 metres of tunnelling progress per week – as the tunnelling machines move forward, precast concrete segments are built in rings behind – 250,000 tunnel segments will be used to line the 42 kilometres of tunnels.
  • 4.5 million tonnes of excavated material from the tunnels will be shipped to Wallasea Island in Essex where it will be used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve.

Jobs

  • Over the course of the project, we expect there to be at least 75,000 opportunities for businesses, generating enough work to support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs.
  • The delivery of Crossrail will create thousands of business and job opportunities including 400 apprenticeships. Over 350 apprenticeships have already been created on the project to date.

Sustainability

  • Contractors across the project are exceeding recycling targets with more than 92 per cent of demolition and construction waste beneficially reused.
  • More than 98 per cent of excavated material recycled with the vast majority being used to create to a RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.
  • Development of a new Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment method (BREEAM) for evaluating the environmental performance of new below ground Crossrail stations.
  • Crossrail rolling stock procurement includes requirements relating to regenerative braking, energy consumption and weight limits.

Surprisingly, the whole project is on time and on budget – such a rare thing!

All in all, it is a truly epic undertaking, and one that our Victorian predecessors would be proud of.

U.K. (Eddie Jobson + John Wetton) at Under The Bridge, London, 1st March 2015

As I have mentioned in a previous post (a review of The Green Album – an early post on my blog, so please forgive me!) Eddie Jobson is one of those musician/composers who really should be better known.  Having contributed to many albums and featured live with bands such as Roxy Music (where he replaced Brian Eno), Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Curved Air and (temporarily) Yes among others; as well as a couple of solo albums after forming U.K. with John Wetton.

In my opinion U.K. was the last of the great Progressive Rock groups from the original age of Prog and should be more highly regarded and generally better known (but then again, you could say that for the whole of the Prog genre in general). I have known Eddie’s music for many years and own a few of his albums on vinyl – partly because it is so difficult to get hold of his solo and U.K. work on CD in his home country!  I have also known of John Wetton for about the same amount of time, largely through his work with King Crimson, so I had high expectations of both of them – expectations which were not disappointed.

I initially kept King Crimson at arm’s length (I found them quite intimidating, as I sure many people would understand) and it wasn’t until I saw John Wetton live in Southampton about fifteen years or so ago and heard him play ‘Starless‘ live that I really woke up to the power and emotional range of both King Crimson and John Wetton’s voice. In terms of the band U.K. I instantly fell in love with the second album Danger Money (featuring the trio of Eddie Jobson, John Wetton and Terry Bozio), but for some strange reason have never moved on to the self-titled first album (with Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth) nor the third one Night After Night (a live recording).  I have no idea why, maybe it has been partly due to the difficulty in getting hold of the recordings, or maybe I just refused to believe they could live up the dazzling Danger Money.

In more recent years U.K. had reformed and played a few gigs, but to my frustration I always found out about their fleeting visits to London after the event!  I don’t know if Eddie is still based in the U.S. but the Americans do get far more live shows, as do Japan, than Great Britain – and I still don’t know why we appear to be so neglected, it seems to be a particularly British thing of not appreciating our own talent.  Anyway, I managed to hear about this concert long before it happened and booked the tickets on the day they were issued to make sure I got them – and thank goodness I did, this is the last U.K. tour and the first of only two gigs in the country!

Under the Bridge is round the back and underneath Stamford Bridge Football Stadium and although I’d never been there before was very easy to find, being a short walk from Fulham Broadway underground station.  It is a new venue but with all the photo’s on the wall, reminded me a lot of Ronnie Scott’s (but with better air conditioning!).  Luckily we got there early enough to get seats and actually heard the band do a sound test, finishing with a run through of ‘Caesar’s Palace Blues‘ – jokingly said that we could go now, but I was glad we stayed for the main show.  The sound quality was excellent – although I was certainly glad of the ear-plugs!U.K. Live in London 2015 1 The performance seemed to be predominately music from the first album to begin with, but they did throw in a few tracks from the second album too and ended up performing pretty much all of the songs from both albums – I did lose track of exactly what they played, so I may be wrong. As well as the obligatory drum solo (well, this is prog after all!) – and I must mention Virgil Donati, who’s drumming was outstanding throughout! – there was also the Eddie Jobson solo feature.  He began by pointing out how he’d managed to avoid having any ‘hits’ throughout his career but was recently surprised to discover at a gig in Poland that one of his pieces had become regularly requested on a radio station there during the Soviet era.  Apparently it was known as the Ping Pong Ball Song – if you know Eddie’s Theme of Secrets album you’ll know which one I mean (‘Inner Secrets‘ is such a strange and melancholic theme to become ‘popular’) – so he began his keyboard solo with this then moved onto his classic acrylic electric-violin, back-lit to heighten and emphasise its clarity.  He actually used three acrylic violins – one clear, one transparent green (as featured on the back of The Green Album) and what looked like a dark transparent blue one. U.K. Live in London 2015 2During the performance I wondered why they didn’t finish ‘Carrying No Cross’ in the main set, but this was solved later on by morphing ‘The Only Thing She Needs’ into the final verse of ‘Carrying No Cross’ as the final track of the second and last encore – and it was a perfect end to the evening.  The first encore included the essential ‘Caesar’s Palace Blues’ and was a great way to come back on stage.  I should also mention the guitarist, Alex Machacek, who was evidently an excellent Allan Holdsworth replacement, although did seem a little superfluous a lot of the time (who needs a guitarist when you have such a powerful trio anyway!). U.K. Live in London 3 - Eddie JobsonThey played for about two hours and a very satisfying concert it was – it is a shame that this is their last tour (but you never know!) and I would be glad to see any of them perform live again in any combination they choose in the future. U.K. Live in London - John Wetton

Southbank Undercroft

When I was in London sometime last year, wandering along the South Bank, a group of people were asking for signatures to help save the skateboarding and graffiti area known as the Undercroft, beneath the Southbank Centre.  I did have some prior knowledge of this situation so I was keen to put my name to the list.National Theatre Philips LogoThe local council had wanted to clear out the skateboarders to make way for nondescript shops – my initial response was that if the purpose of the Southbank was to provide a hub for culture, why can it not accommodate the skateboarders and graffiti artists?  The Undercroft is the perfect place for this very urban culture, tucked out-of-the-way below the Queen Elizabeth Hall (next to the National Theatre).  It has existed there happily for decades – ‘culture’ much is broader than, and certainly not exclusive to, the established arts; it flourishes on many levels.

Here is the joint statement issued by Lambeth council and the skateboarders (quoted from the Long Live Southbank website):-

After 17 months, we can announce Southbank is finally saved – a massive thank you to all who stood with us. Happy reading…

JOINT STATEMENT:
LONG LIVE SOUTHBANK AND SOUTHBANK CENTRE SECURE
FUTURE OF UNDERCROFT FOR SKATEBOARDING AND URBAN ACTIVITIES
Following talks that have taken place over the last three months, Long Live Southbank and Southbank Centre are delighted to have reached an agreement that secures the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft as the long-term home of British skateboarding and the other urban activities for which it is famous.
The agreement has been formalised in a binding planning agreement with Lambeth Council. In the agreement, Southbank Centre agrees to keep the undercroft open for use without charge for skateboarding, BMX riding, street writing and other urban activities.
On the basis of the protections secured by the planning agreement, Southbank Centre and Long Live Southbank have withdrawn their respective legal actions in relation to the undercroft. These include Southbank Centre’s challenge to the registration of the undercroft as an asset of community value, Long Live Southbank’s application for village green status for the undercroft, and a judicial review of Lambeth Council’s decision to reject the village green application.
Long Live Southbank is pleased to support Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing project for the improvement of the Queen 
Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, on the basis that the plans will now no longer include any redevelopment within the skate area of the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft.
Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council said; “I’m pleased that Lambeth Council was able to work with both sides and find an imaginative solution to resolve this. Shared public space in London is precious and Southbank Centre is a great asset to the country’s cultural life. This agreement is a sensible way of protecting both and we can all now look forward.”
In addition…
Long Live Southbank would like to thank all our supporters and we would like to thank the Mayor of London for his intervention and Southbank Centre for its constructive approach to the negotiations that have achieved this outcome.
Kid jumping on a skateboard at the Southbank CentreThe saving of the Undercroft has had a major effect on the plans to redevelop the Southbank – for ‘redevelopment’ read ‘clad in glass’.  This attempt to ‘pretty-up’ the Southbank is a dishonest betrayal of the brutalist architecture.  Brutilism is a much maligned movement, a sentiment which in many cases is justified, but the bad examples should not be used to discredit all brutalist buildings – the National Theatre and surrounding buildings being a prime example.  Cladding it in glass is not a solution, it is a deception.

Southbank Centre proposed redevelopment, with 'floating' glass pavilion

 

Bus Stop Shock

I find that I tune out of most advertising – probably because I’m quite capable of looking for what I want when I want it, thank-you very much!

I think that most people are similar and quite immune to advertising, whether it be on the internet, TV, radio or physical posters – like me they just blank it out.  Of course I might remember an image, or a song might catch my ear, but I am very unlikely to associate it with any particular brand.  For this reason different companies are becoming increasingly inventive in how they attract your attention – this is fine by me, it won’t make me any more likely to buy whatever the brand is selling, but it can be a form of mini-entertainment to pass a minute or two in the day.

A perfect example of this exuberant commercial creativity is demonstrated by a bus stop in London which uses a combination of a digital camera and cleverly arranged graphics to great effect.  People waiting for their bus have been stunned to see a tentacled monster snatch a passer-by, flying saucers invading the capitol, or a giant toy robot destroying the streets, amongst other amusing events.

Watch this promo clip here, and if you’d like a little explanation, here‘s one by the BBC.

Flying Saucers

Tentacle

RobotBy the way – I’ve no idea what it’s advertising…! 😉

The Small World of Sammy Lee (OST) by Kenny Graham

A few things I know nothing about:- The Small World Of Sammy Lee, British Jazz, Soho in the 60’s, Kenny Graham.

What little I do know about:- Anthony Newley, London, British Films, Jazz (but only in general – well, essentially the popular American bits).

What I now know:- British Jazz is very different from American Jazz (and I like it too), I need to see this film.

Small World Of Sammy Lee - album cover artThis was supposed to be a review of sorts about the latest release from Trunk Records, but I really don’t feel qualified in terms of my knowledge of British Jazz to do that, so this posting is more a way of highlighting a discovery than a proper critique.

Trunk Records specialize in releasing for the first time, or re-releasing, forgotten music in all its retro forms – from old Library Music discs, the music to half-remembered children’s TV series, weird folk recordings, a few naughty things and the soundtracks to films which were not big enough to get a soundtrack album at the time.  For anyone bored of shiny pop and looking for something a little different (or a lot different, for that matter!) this is an absolute godsend!

The forgotten film this time is The Small World Of Sammy Lee.  It was Anthony Newley’s first film lead and is a story about a nightclub compère, Sammy ‘Lee’ Leeman (Anthony Newley), who gets seriously into debt and has to quickly find the money to pay off the bookies.  It was filmed in and around the sleazy streets of Soho in the early 60’s and sounds like a real-time capsule of a movie.  I must see it!

So, to the brand new soundtrack album to a 50 year old film – after finally tracking down the original master tapes (through Kenny Graham’s oblivious daughter, I believe) we can hear the music which was especially composed for the film by one of the UK’s premier exponents and promoters of modern jazz throughout the 1950’s, 60’s and beyond. The music generally has a plaintive mood about it, but is at turns wistful (Soho At Dawn), playful (The Hustling Starts), cool (Four O’Clock Hop), swinging (Dash To Bellman’s) and groovy (Thoughts At Home).

There is no Wikipedia entry for Kenny Graham, which is a real shame – from the evidence of this album of previously unreleased music he deserves to be much better known, and hopefully, with the increasing interest in British Jazz, he soon will be.

Postscript:- Allmusic mentions Kenny Graham, and there is a decent obituary in The Independent newspaper from 1997.  If you would like more of Kenny Graham’s music try his re-interpretation and response to Moondog’s music – Moondog and Suncat Suites.  And if you don’t know Moondog (also known as Viking of 6th Avenue) then check him out too – you’ll never know where it’ll lead!

Cheapside Hoard at The Museum of London

Just over two weeks ago I went to a fascinating exhibition of jewellery at the Museum of London and spent a good few hours browsing the extensive collection – now that’s something I didn’t think I ever hear myself saying.

This was no ordinary bunch of gleaming metal though.  When it was first discovered it was called The Cheapside Hoard, and having seen it I can honestly say that it undeniably fits that category and is a very rare treasure indeed.  Because it was split up soon after its discovery this is actually the first time in over a hundred years that the complete collection has been in one place and on display to the public.

Discovered by labourers working with pickaxes in an old cellar on Cheapside (not far from where the Museum of London is now), the buried wooden box they uncovered was full of what turned out to be over 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery.

Kept in darkened galleries, behind a heavy duty turnstyle gate and guarded by security, the first items you come across are intricately made necklaces, with tiny enamelling and studded with gleaming jewels.   The image below in no way shows off the beauty or delicacy of the necklaces – but the way they are displayed in the exhibition, suspended in mid-air in large glass cabinets, certainly does.  The lighting and the setting of all the items is extremely well done and there really is no substitute for seeing them first hand.Selection of necklaces from the Cheapside Hoard: 16th - 17th cenIt is the workmanship which amazes with all their tiny details and demonstrates the extent to which the wealthy, even in the 17th century could obtain extremely high quality items of exquisite craftmanship, made of precious stones from all across the world.

The gemstones demonstrate the international trade of luxury goods in the period, with emerald from Colombia, topaz and amazonite from Brazil, spinel, iolite, and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, ruby from India, Afghan lapis lazuli, Persian turquoise, peridot from the Red Sea, as well as Bohemian and Hungarian opal, garnet, and amethyst, and pearls from Bahrain.  Large stones were frequently set in box-bezels on enamelled rings.  Most of the gemstones are cabochon cut, but there are a few with more modern faceted cuts, including rose cut and star cut. A particularly large Columbian emerald, originally the size of an apple, had been hollowed out to accommodate a Swiss watch movement dated to around 1600. There are also a Byzantine gemstone cameo, a cameo of Queen Elizabeth I, an emerald parrot, and some fake gemstones made of carved and dyed quartz.  (quoted from the Wikipedia page here)

Cheapside Hoard 2When the hoard was buried can be pinned down to somewhere between 1640 and 1666 – there is a stone seal with the arms of William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford who was given that title in 1640 and the cellar belonged to a building which stood before The Great Fire of London in 1666.

So, why was such an incredibly valuable amount of jewels buried and why was it never recovered?  As there is no record to provide us with an insight into the true story of the hoard, we are only left with conjecture.  Who was the person who buried the box – was he a wealthy customer, a trader, or a poor crafts-person?  Was it buried in desperation just before the fire of London took a hold of the building?  Or, was the Civil War to blame and the owner killed in battle?  We may never know.

Museum Of LondonThe Museum of London is stones throw from the Barbican Centre and a short walk from St Paul’s Cathedral – it is a fascinating museum and we had a good long look round after seeing the exhibition, wondering why we hadn’t been there before.

The museum of London tells the story of the world’s greatest city and it’s people.  It cares for more than two million objects in it’s collections and attracts more than 400,000 visitors per year.  It holds the largest archiological archive in Europe. (who we are).

The entrance is typical 60’s architecture – you approach it by a bridge over a road, then follow a sweeping covered walkway which encompasses a small garden, before entering the tall foyer of the museum itself.  The building is worth a visit, the museum is worth a visit, and the exhibition (which is on until the 27th April 2014) is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.

The Rolling Stones Live in Hyde Park, London, 50 & Counting Tour, 6th July 2013

With the thought of this post ahead of me,  I have the feeling that it may be one of the more difficult articles to write.  Simply because, what hasn’t been said about The Rolling Stones over the past 50 years really isn’t worth saying!

Yes, they have a huge store of the greatest songs in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll; yes, they are one of the greatest live acts on stage; yes, their history is well-known and easily searchable (if you are one of the few who don’t already know it); and yes, they have been doing it for 50 years and they still ROCK!   Grrr….!

Being the second Fiftieth Anniversary tour I’ve seen this year (see my review of The Pretty Things) it seems incredible that a band which, at the time, you’d doubt they’d survive the 60’s, let alone the 70’s and beyond.  It makes you wonder if such an illustrious, productive and long-lived legacy will ever be achieved in popular music again!Before the band arrived on stage

The stage in Hyde Park was surrounded by two giant artificial oak trees, draping the enormous screens which were behind and to the sides of the stage – as Mick later put it, it looked “like a cross between Wimbledon and a pantomime forest!“.  Before the band appeared there was a montage of film from the free gig in Hyde Park (forty-four years and a day before this event) accompanied by Let’s Spend The Night Together among other tracks from the 60’s, which was a shame because it’s one of my favourites and I would have loved to have heard it played live.

They began the set with Start Me Up followed by It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It). After that the great songs kept coming, including their new one Doom and Gloom (which references the current popular fascination with zombies!).  There were also a couple I didn’t know like All Down The Line, which was voted for by the fans on their facebook page.

Mick JaggerHaving got there early and camped near to the front (and surviving the relentless heat of the sun for hours on end) proved well worth it.  I was not going to pay all that money and settle for watching them on a giant screen halfway down the enclosure.  As chance would have it (and without knowing it at the time) we were also very close to the runway which divided the audience, so when Mick came prancing down the track we had a great close up view of him in action (as well as Keith and Ronnie when they ventured down there later in the set).

Keith and Ronnie played their instruments with well practised nonchalance.  Charlie played the drums as though he’d rather be somewhere else (as usual) and when Mick introduced him to the audience he reluctantly came forward with complete indifference before returning to his drum kit.  I think it was at this point that Keith and Ronnie were having a quick fag at the back of the stage like two naughty school boys.  In fact Ronnie was rarely without a cigarette between his fingers for the whole of the set.  Although Mick’s voice is not as strong as it used to be, this was not at all surprising – it’s more surprising that he’s still fully mobile and performing at all!

It was also good to see Mick Taylor joining them for a couple of songs – he first performed with the Stones at the Hyde Park concert in ’69 as a replacement for Brian Jones, who’d died just a few days previously.

The set list for the gig was as follows:-

Start Me Up

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)

Tumbling Dice

All Down The Line (By Request)

Beast Of Burden

Doom And Gloom

Bitch (with Gary Clark Jr)

Paint It Black

Honky Tonk Women

You Got The Silver (with Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Before They Make Me Run (with Keith Richards on lead vocals)

Miss You

Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)

Gimme Shelter

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Sympathy For The Devil

Brown Sugar

ENCORE

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (with the Voice Choir and members of the London Youth Choir)

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)

The Rolling Stones - the phone camera makes it look further away than it was unfortunately.

The highlight of the main set was probably Sympathy For The Devil (the crowd was hooting for it long before it arrived!), and it was accompanied by Hyde Park burning on the screens and red smoke filling the air.  It was also with huge sense of personal relief that they ended with Satisfaction, the set would have felt sorely incomplete if they hadn’t included it somewhere.

Over all it was a really good gig which was well worth seeing.  It didn’t have the urgency that The Pretty Things displayed – although being right up close to them in a small pub might have made a difference.  Having now seen the Glastonbury gig (I recorded it the previous weekend) I believe the Hyde Park concert was a much better overall performance by the band.

Although I remember little of the support acts, except for the fantastic Gary Clark Jr. who performed a blistering heavy blues/rock set (and The Vaccines might be worth investigating further) it was a great historic event and I am pleased to say that I’ve finally seen The Rolling Stones live – because, for all we know, ‘This could be the last time, This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know…’