I Can’t Give Everything Away: The Art Collection of David Bowie

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Musician, actor, curator.  Artist, icon, Bowie. There is no one word that defines him other than his name; such was the broadness of his interests, his pursuits, his (sound and) vision. Certainly, he will be mostly remembered for his music, and not everyone will have fond memories of the Goblin King, but to encapsulate what a pioneering, influential figure he was, there really is no other option in terms of providing an explanation.

It’s half a year since he’s gone and there’s no sign of his spirit disappearing. The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt atop the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; a box set “Who Can I Be Now?” featuring songs from his “American phase,” out this Autumn; even a musical based on “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” coming to London in October (although admittedly Bowie co-wrote the show before his death). But his art collection? That truly is a new side to him, one that has only been hinted at before.

This November, Sotheby’s will be auctioning over 400 pieces of work from Bowie’s collection, many by some of the most celebrated British artists of the twentieth century. Before that, it will tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before a full exhibition in London in the week leading up to the grand sale, which is expected to bring in a cool £10 million- and that’s just the value of the paintings, before you take into account the previous owner.

For now, a preview of the exhibition has opened in the art business’s Mayfair branch, and with the luck of the draw giving me a day off on its opening morning, me and my housemate decided to head down. Thankfully, it wasn’t too packed- this is after all, only a preview, with just over two dozen pieces on display from the full collection- but there was still an excitable buzz as we meandered the halls checking out the pieces.

Not surprisingly, one of the highlights is Damien Hurst’s “Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting,” what I now know to be one of his trademark “spin” paintings. The vibrancy of so many colours, twisting around the circle in such a wild, enigmatic manner, made it impossible to miss this piece, an explosion of unrestrained creativity.

I also greatly enjoyed Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, another piece that refuses to blend into the background- except that this was a piece of furniture. So often now we pick out sets of matching chest of drawers, bedside tables and the like, almost for want of uniformity and order, but the jutting shapes and bold colours of this piece are entertaining to behold.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the most astonishing revelation that Bowie had an unusual record player, but the sleek, insatiably stylish Brionvega Radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni was something to behold. Accompanying it was a list of “25 Albums that could “Change Your Reputation,” according to David Bowie,” originally from a Vanity Fair article in 2013. I’m ashamed (but also not surprised, if I’m honest) that I did not have any on the list, but that will also make for interesting listening at some point in the future.

And there, in among the displays, are striking poses of the man himself- constantly reminding you that these particular pieces of art will forever be embedded with a unique context. Why did he buy them? How did they fit into his collection, his style, and his overall outlook on life? The further you look into these things, the more they befuddle you; at its simplest, it offers another definition of Bowie for us to ponder over.

Bowie me

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My first time at the Proms

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A man reaches for a Tupperware of grapes during the interval, as the smell of wine hangs thick in the air. It’s my first time at the Proms- officially as a “Prommer” too- and of all the concerts, gigs, live events that I’ve been to, this is one in particular that is unavoidably informed by the atmosphere. Of course, classical music can be enjoyed anywhere- and maybe likening it to the grandiose architecture of tonight’s venue plays into a certain snooty stereotype – but the ambiance of the Royal Albert Hall really lends to the feeling of the Proms as an occasion, one to celebrate.

And yet, here I am with my flatmate Gavin for the cost of seven pounds. Yes we’re technically standing (though many choose to sit down even during the recitals), but in terms of encouraging people from all backgrounds to experience classical music, the cheap price of the tickets is really promising. There was no queuing for hours either- this is the first year the Proms have started selling these tickets online, on the day of the prom itself. Granted, you can only buy one each, but if you organise it in advance it’s a relatively straightforward process; you really haven’t got an excuse not to give it a go.

The main difference here is that Gavin really knows his classical; he was so determined to hear two of the pieces at this particular prom that he was originally planning to go by himself until I jumped at the chance. I really enjoy classical, but I suffer from a naivety about the different composers, pieces and periods. Sure, I could throw a handful of names at you, but I wouldn’t feel confident debating it. However, your own experience can surprise you at times, and I was happy to find I actually knew the first piece on the bill, Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero;” I just wasn’t aware of its name. Gavin wasn’t a huge fan of its repetitive nature, but I liked the way it built with the number of instruments throughout.

After this came Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor,” an early twentieth century composition with the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging of its kind. As the grand piano was wheeled out, Gavin was craning to see who would be rising to the challenge, and was taken aback by the youthful appearance of Behzod Abduraimov. For such a complex composition, it soared and shimmered throughout its forty two minutes, with an abundance of keys giving the effect of a waterfall. Only the back of Abduraimov’s shirt at the end betrayed how difficult it must have been; the fact he returned for an encore was even more commendable.

Neither of us were aware of Ustvolskaya’s third symphony “Jesus Messiah, Save Us!” but given the uplifting nature of the previous two pieces, it bought a curtain of melancholy that felt out of place; sometimes formidable, sometimes sombre, never really welcomed.  It was intriguing, but fell to Rachmaninov’s shadow. But the fourth! It was a suite from Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” which revived the merrier mood that had started the night. The melodies swelled and dived at such a pace, accelerating up to the gallery before crashing down again, without ever jerking out of place, that it all flowed rather beautifully.

Somehow, I had not comprehended the notion of an encore at the Proms, but after some frenzied foot stomping from the concertgoers, we were treated to two additional pieces. The first neither of us knew, but the second was an unexpected treat that again I knew by ear and not by name- Bach’s “Air on a G String.” Seeing as I have been trying to find the name of this for quite a while, I was rather chuffed to be able to experience it. For me, it’s always felt like a piece of reflection, a time to consider the events that have just occurred. Somehow I got caught up in the notion of an aftermath of a furious battle; quite a contrast to the gentle, contemplative ending it provided to a fine, varied evening of music.

The main thing that I took away from my first night at the Proms is that, because of a lack of lyrics (well, mostly), classical music is something you feel- there were plenty around us, sitting or standing, with their eyes closed as in meditation, just letting the music flow through them. It provokes such a wide range of emotions, that if you’ve not given it a chance before, I reckon you’ll be surprised. After all, movements, keys and composers are just names- the most basic instinct is whether you enjoy it. I can honestly say, as a Prommer, there’s nothing like it.

My Glastonbury 2016 Food Roundup

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If there’s one thing about Glastonbury that you can’t appreciate on the telly, it’s the food. Granted, festivals can be cruel on the bank balance, as your rumbling stomach forces you to part with astonishing amounts for a meal, but the right stalls reward a ramble. I really admire those who endeavor to cook pot noodles and Ainsley Harriot’s couscous on the campsite stoves, as a fair few of my festival mates did. However, if you’re willing to put some money aside, you can treat your taste buds for several days if you pick the right stalls. And the choice! It’s like a small sample from every corner of world cuisine convenes on Worthy Farm.

However, not all Glastonbury food is created equal. Last year, at the end of one night, our drunken eyes were allured by the 24 hour food marquee near our campsite. Even with our alcohol-soaked senses, it was still one of the worst cheeseburgers we’d ever eaten. This year, we arrived at a different campsite at around midnight, shattered from hiking the final three miles to the site with our entire luggage. There was nowhere else to go; even so, I hoped this 24 hour outlet would be different. Sadly no luck; our only hope was to douse it in ketchup. The fact is, there are too many burgers in the world for you to waste your time forcing down a sub-standard one.

THURSDAY

Thursday went a lot better. Any trip to the Park Stage around lunchtime deserves a stop off at the Lebanese Mezze stand. Along with the standards of falafel, olives and hummus, there were also vine leaves stuffed with feta, sumptuous bean and potato dishes. Over at William’s Green for dinner meant an obligatory visit to the BEST cheesy chips you will have; just the right level of crispiness, and melted mature cheddar that doesn’t overpower the whole product. I also tried a stone-baked pizza from a nearby stand, proudly proclaiming it was courtesy of one of the Great British Bake Off finalists; spicy lamb with onions, on a nice crispy base. If they told me he was Italian, I would have believed them.

FRIDAY

On Friday, we were caught in an almighty grime shutdown on the Pyramid Stage, which meant one thing for lunch… Oli’s deep fried halloumi, served in a crispy flatbread cone with salad and sweet chilli sauce. Even writing this makes my mouth water. Granted, a lot of things taste good deep fried, but the combination of textures is what makes this. The soft, chewy flatbread with the rubbery halloumi and the crisp salad leaves… it has to be one of your “must have Glastonbury lunches.”  That evening, as me Tom and Lavie made our way to Foals, I took a chance on Chapati Man; my masala chicken wrap had just the right level of spice, with a good portion of chicken breast in there among the veg.

SATURDAY

Saturday took us back to the Park area, but as much as I loved my mezze, there was too much on offer to go for anything else. I stumbled upon a Carribean stall serving delicious jerk chicken, with a whole charcoaled chicken wing and a large dollop of sauce amongst the rice and peas. Granted, it was a little bit black on the outside, but otherwise the meat was succulent and very good value. That night, waiting for the wonder of Adele, I stumbled across one of several Le Grande Bouffe stands dotted around the site. There’s a reason there’s a few of them; they’re too good to have just one! I went for a sausage in white wine with a potato tartiflette; honestly, one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted. Probably the only time I debated going back for a second meal!

SUNDAY

On Sunday, I was determined to round off a weekend of good food (and some decent music besides). This was to be a day of past tradition; round the corner from the Other Stage, I banished my hangover with a “Growler”; a deep filled baguette with bacon, chips and melted cheese, described as a “tribute to Pauline Fowler.” Not sure about the link, but it hit the spot. A late afternoon visit to the old favourite Goan Fish Curries was too good to miss; their mackerel masala dahl, with a whole smoked fish atop it, would make the entire ocean proud, and the fresh herbs made it as fragrant as it was tasty. Finally, right before LCD Soundsystem, so I treated myself to Square Pie- a spot-on steak and Guinness, with gravy full of tang and delicious flaky pastry.

Festival food can be hard to get right- not just because there’s so much of it, but if you’re in a group it can be hard not to just go for what’s in front of you- but there are plenty of decent options among the bland. As a rough guide, try anywhere where they’ve made an effort with the name, appearance, that sort of thing. It sounds trivial but often the generic names that just describe the origin of the food (e.g. Mexican) are often below par, as my friends Tom and Lavie sadly found out with some much maligned nachos and a pessimist’s burrito. I couldn’t help but feel bad as I sat there in curry heaven thanks to Chapati Man. Of course, the headliners will always get the most attention, but if you can feast for five days, why turn down the option?

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My belated Glastonbury 2016 review

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Here’s an important question that needs to be answered: how long can you keep talking about Glastonbury after the event has been and passed? It’s an issue as thought-provoking as how long it is reasonably acceptable to keep your wristband on after the event, considering all the mud you embrace during your five days on the farm. But hey, leaving it a few weeks gives you plenty of time to reflect (plus life’s been pretty manic recently), so here are some of my thoughts on this year’s action on Worthy Farm…

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Who would have thought that London to Glastonbury would take 10 hours? No crazy detours either- our coach troupe set off at half 1 on Wednesday,  and we were just over 4 miles away by half 4. Fast forward three hours and we were only a mile closer. In the end, it was just before midnight that we reached the campsite having abandoned the coach just before 10 with three miles to go. This was my 3rd year at Glastonbury, and the queuing has never been as bad as this.

The only thing worse was the mud. The draining, soul-destroying mud. It doubled the length of every journey across the site, and made it impossible to sit down anywhere, meaning there were deep staring battles for chairs and the one patch of grass left in front of the Pyramid. Granted, it did lead to a few entertaining encounters as the luckless lost their wellies in the mud- followed by admirable demonstrations of camaraderie as we rushed in to help, embracing the true festival spirit. But even so, it was a relief to get back on solid ground once the weekend was over.

Why do I start on such negatives? Well, despite the queues, mud, and queues IN mud, Glastonbury still remains the highlight of my year, unchallenged in its celebration of contemporary music and art. Maybe it’s the sheer variety of bands, comedians and artists on offer that keeps me coming back; maybe it’s the sprawling variety of areas that after three years in a row I have still yet to explore entirely. Or maybe now it’s become a post-university tradition that nostalgia forbids me to break. In any case, Glastonbury amazed and delighted in equal measure once again.

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For musical highlights, there were plenty of well-chosen last minute decisions, such as the Syrian Orchestra, first on the Pyramid on Friday morning, with Damon Albarn leading a brilliant cover of Blur’s “Out Of Time”. Also on The Hell Stage at 2am on Sunday morning, we decided on The Apples, an Israeli funk nine piece who finished with a rousing cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of.” Unexpected surprises such as Gentleman’s Dub Club in the Glade, and firm favourites exceeding expectations (Ezra Furman and The Last Shadow Puppets I’m looking at you)… too many bands to name!

However, I do have to mention my headliners. Firstly, Underworld on West Holts were the perfect frenzy for a Friday, an explosion of dance and light that set a commendable pace for the days ahead. I saw them at BBC 6 Music Festival earlier this year, but far from dissuading me that I had already experienced this set it only encouraged me to return. Then, Adele on Saturday was an unforeseen joy- or at least, I thought I would enjoy it, but I was surprised by just how much I did. It was just the right mix of banter to lift your spirits from the emotional depths that her songs plunged to.

Finally, we had LCD Soundsystem on The Other Stage, bringing us down with the curtain call. I knew this would be the one band I would kick myself the most for missing. It wasn’t just the gaiety of their sharp electronic rock; it was in the way James Murphy and his band performed that made it such an enjoyable experience.  From the pounding chants of “Us V Them,” the dance-punk ferocity of “Losing My Edge” to the final number of “All My Friends,” the piano chords refusing to relent, I felt suitably satisfied at the set and only just missing my friends in a few fields away, most of which opted for Earth, Wind & Fire.

 

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Overall, Saturday night was the maddest of the lot. Somehow, on a high after Adele finished with “Someone Like You,” several of our group made it to the fabled South East Corner, famed for its late night mind boggling madness. Shangri La in particular spins popular culture and the role of the media on its head; the twists to convention enveloping you, particularly after a few bevvies. It was here we saw The Apples, along with Dub Pistols and a DJ set from Mark Ronson and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, before I conceded defeat and made my way home along the railway line (which, I hasten to add, is covered over).

However, halfway along to home, I realized sunrise was just around the corner (or in this case, just over the horizon), and I was caught up with a few other enthusiastic night owls who were making their way to the Stone Circle at the top of the festival site. We arrived to a chorus of drums, percussion and otherworldly chants as the first rays leapt over the horizon. It was a site to behold, a new day at the festival… and then it was half five, and I realised how  truly tired I was, and I struggled back to camp. Even at six, as I finally got into my tent, there was still so much going on, refusing to give in to tiredness.

Glastonbury is full of experiences like that- maybe not all quite so draining- and even waking up late on Friday morning to the news we were leaving the EU did little to affect the festival spirit. Sure, it was mentioned plenty of times- Damon Albarn strolled onto the Pyramid stage a few hours after the result, and proclaimed “reasons to be cheerful? It’s not raining!” But Worthy Farm is one of those places you stride into, and suddenly all of your problems and woes ebb out of you. All I can say is, if you think the Pyramid looks one heck of a site on the telly, just wait till you glimpse it in the Somerset fields.

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